Ladies: Your Beliefs May Stop You From Being An Assertive Leader

Beliefs That Stop You From Being An Assertive Leader, leadership development for women, working relationships for women, management training for women

Ladies: Your Beliefs May Stop You From Being An Assertive Leader

Of course, being an assertive leader is critical to your success. Unless you are assertive, you won’t have the respect of your employees. Chances are, accountability will be lacking on your team. Here are six more reasons to remain assertive in your leadership role.

  1. If you don’t, problems repeat themselves. Silence tells your employees that you accept and consent to their behavior.
  2. People cannot read your mind and you cannot read theirs. You cannot assume that their intentions are what you think they are.
  3. Limits change constantly; you will change your mind about what you are willing to accept from others and others will do the same.
  4. When you don’t set limits assertively, you often end up manipulating to get your way. You may use sarcasm, criticism, indirect communication, and/or dishonesty to tell others what you need.
  5. When you don’t assert yourself, you rarely do get your way.
  6. When don’t assert yourself, you damage relationships. Resentments build up when you self-sacrifice and it shows. You end up feeling mistreated and disrespected which also shows. You judge people privately (and privately) as rude (or worse) and all of this leads to a negative attitude towards yourself and others.

One very powerful exercise that I do with my executive coaching clients is to help them identify the irrational beliefs that may lead to their lack of assertiveness. These beliefs may be so automatic and so ingrained that they occur to us faster than the speed of light. We hardly even pay attention to them. So we aren’t even aware of them. For example, one of my clients assumed that she would make mistakes if or when she did any public speaking. She thought that she must be perfectly competent in all of her interactions, or else avoid them. She believed it would be awful if she messed up her presentations because others were sure to disapprove of her. She also believed that she was naturally shy, that her heredity and upbringing made her this way. Therefore, she concluded that she was powerless to change. She told herself that she would be happier if she just sat back, didn’t lead projects or people, and settled for less challenging assignments. She concluded that she would be content if she avoided it. Although I gave her the best assertive communication skills, it wasn’t until I showed her how her thinking was irrational that she could actually put those skills to practice consistently.

Beliefs That Stop You From Being an Assertive Leader

Beliefs That Stop You From Being An Assertive Leader

Female leaders sometimes fail to assert themselves because they believe that women shouldn’t be pushy. They also tell  themselves that it is easier for them to remain silent on issues. They’d rather not “make a fuss” or expect things to be more equal and fair. They also tell themselves:

  • “I need to rely on someone stronger than myself – a man”
  • “Men should handle large sums of money and make the major decisions”
  • “It is awful to hurt other people’s feelings”
  • “A woman does not raise her voice”
  • “I should place the needs of others before my own”
  • “I must be accepted by everyone”
  • “I can’t rock the boat”
  • “I have to be a good employee/daughter/friend/mother/wife”

Thoughts & Feelings That Stop You From Being An Assertive Leader

  1. Lack of clarity: you must tune in to your self-talk so you know what you want or don’t want or where you draw the line with others. Get to know your boundaries and take time to set your priorities.
  2. Lack of courage: If you have feelings of guilt, fear of hurting others, fear of disapproval, and fears of conflict, rejection, and failure, realize that these feelings come from faulty thoughts.
  3. Faulty Thinking: Examples include catastrophizing, always-or-never, black-or-white thinking, and must-have thinking. If you lack assertiveness, you may be confused over responsibilities and rights. You are not responsible for other people’s feelings. Also, view acceptance, popularity, approval, etc. as preferences rather than must-have necessities.
  4. Perceived payoffs for being passive or aggressive: You may think that you are safer, but this isn’t true! If you are passive, people may see you as flexible and easy-going, but they may eventually take advantage of you. Aggression may give you power and protection from pain, but it eventually blows up in your face (people seek revenge).
  5.  Focusing on a low probability event as an excuse for non-assertion: You may let someone use offensive language, for instance, because you fear rejection. You may say to yourself, “If I say something, she may not like me.” Then, you give this situation added meaning with, “It would be terrible if that happened.” But, don’t base your actions on “maybe” events and don’t make up excuses for your lack of assertiveness that have no validity. Also, look at your fears of rejection or anger. Imagine the worst that can happen, and evaluate whether this possibility is even realistic.

How To Challenge Beliefs That Stop You From Being an Assertive Leader

I begin by asking my clients:

  • Do your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, assumptions, and conclusions seem logical and sound? Or, are they simply habits of thought?
  • Do they help you act assertively? Or, do they lead you to suppress your feelings or needs?
  • What will happen if you try something new?
  • What if your new behavior is a little imperfect or awkward at first? Will the roof cave-in?
  • What if someone disapproves of you? Will the consequences be as severe as you expect? Are exaggerated expectations of negative consequences holding you back?

More Ways To Become More Assertive as a Leader

I help my clients become more assertive by role modeling, providing specific words and particular actions in various situations calling for assertiveness. For example, when female leaders interact with others, I instruct them to, and role model the use of, direct eye contact. Posture and distance from others also communicates strong messages. So I demonstrate erect, open posture; forward lean; taking up space; and, proximity to assertive messages. I also coach clients on the use of effective hand gestures. After this instruction, I ask the client to try each behavior. Then, I provide feedback, telling the client exactly what she did well and what she could improve.
In my practice of coaching female executives, I use behavioral rehearsal because practice makes you better. Notice I didn’t say perfect? Striving for perfection is another block to assertiveness. In coaching sessions, we try out new assertive behaviors in a non-threatening setting. By applying new tools, the client becomes comfortable with her newfound assertiveness. Through role-playing, my clients rehearse assertive responses during sessions. They act out their part while I play the role of the other person. Switching roles can then give them even more insight. Role-playing allows you to practice the proper posture, tone of voice, and eye contact. During coaching sessions, you practice being on the “up and up” with others. You try “cutting through the chase”. And, rather than “beating around the bush”, you practice being succinct and direct.
For example, a recent client who I will call Janet made some excellent progress in the area of assertive communication. First, we identified what thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, assumptions, and conclusions held her back from being assertive. Then I suggested specific things that she could say and do. Then Janet role-played her employee, her supervisor, or whoever else was involved in the scenario. Finally, she rehearsed the most effective responses. This allowed Janet to practice assertiveness skills like active, empathetic listening (paraphrasing what she thought the person said, using her own words); the broken record technique; and, the use of disclaimers such as “I know you don’t mean anything by this, but you have a tendency to…” or “You may not realize this, but you tend to… and I’d prefer that you …”. All of this enabled her to take her leadership to the next level. Her increased assertiveness won her the respect of her employees and co-workers. And, the more respect she felt from others, the more courage and confidence she felt in her leadership role.

Barbara Jordan, 
Author, Trainer/Facilitator, Executive Coach

LPI (Leadership Practices Inventory) Certified Coach

DISC Certified Behavior Analyst

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