(From Harvard Business Review Blog Network) -- If I had to pick one skill for the majority of leaders I work with to improve, it would be assertiveness. Not because being assertive is such a wonderful trait in and of itself. Rather, because of its power to magnify so many other leadership strengths.
Assertiveness gets a bad rap when people equate it with being pushy and annoying. But that shouldn't stop you from learning to apply it productively (that is — in service to your strengths). More harm is done when people aren't assertive enough than by being too assertive. At least you know what pushy people think, but those who don't assert themselves can be keeping vital ideas hidden and useless when they don't speak up or speak too softly. So I'd assert that when you are able to balance this critical skill with your other leadership abilities, you greatly amplify your power and impact.
Here are some specific ways in which assertiveness complements a wide range of the critical leadership skills you may already have:
- Creating a culture of innovation: A couple of years ago I conducted a study to determine the characteristics of the most innovative leaders in one of the largest companies in the world. One of their most powerful traits, their peers and direct reports told me, was their ability to push back on the hierarchy. These leaders were by no means rebels; rather, they were perceived to be fearless. Coupling assertiveness with their ability to foster innovation enabled them to take on difficult issues — to fight for resources for new projects or openly disagree with more senior managers about policy changes that could have severe unintended consequences. Being challenged required people to think more deeply to justify a course of action, which frequently produced much better ideas.