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Assertiveness – Lead Quality of Leaders

Assertiveness is not what you do, it’s who you are! – Cal Le Mon

As the word itself sounds, Assertiveness is nothing but a skill to assert your self effectively to get the things done. Assertiveness is an integral part of effective communication.

There are four styles of Communication viz., Passive, Passive-Aggressive, Aggressive and Assertive Communication. All styles have their proper place and use. Among these styles of Communication, Assertive Communication is the healthiest. Assertive Communication is the style of Leaders, who wish to get the things done by motivating the team, for the benefit of the organization. Then, how Assertive Communication will become effective when you are in a leadership position?

– Boundaries of all parties are respected.

– Easier to problem-solve; fewer emotional outbursts.

– It requires skills and a philosophy change, as well as lots of practice and hard work.

– When both parties do it, no one is hurt in any way and all parties win on some level.

The Assertive Person

o Expresses needs, wants and feelings directly and honestly

o Allows others to hold different views without dismissing or deprecating them

o Respects the fact that others’ needs are as important as one’s own

o Realizes that no one controls anyone else.

Example: “I understand that you’re busy, but I’d like to see the manager as soon as possible, please.”

Realising that we are not tied to old viewpoints about the world, and the awareness that we cannot control others can be a very liberating feeling. We are free to tentatively practice new ways of relating to others.

How do we move into this new style? The only way is to practice. Draw up a list of situations where you can be assertive. For example: refusing a request made at work or taking a faulty item back to the shop. Notice the way you decline or make requests. Register your expression and posture. Assertive postures are open and non-threatening, with friendly eye contact.

Practice asking others’ opinions. This creates an opportunity to express yours directly and without being apologetic. Notice whether you listen attentively to what others are saying. People are more likely to listen to you if they feel that you are attentive.

Remember to use ‘I’ statements wherever possible. This makes the tone of the communication direct, but unchallenging.

We can classify Assertiveness into two components. These two are Assertiveness in expression and Assertiveness in action. People are expected to have some behavioural traits to become effective in both components of Assertiveness.

How to achieve effectiveness of Assertiveness in expression?

Emotional intelligence and Spiritual quotient are the two behavioural traits which help individuals to achieve effectiveness in expressive Assertiveness. Emotional intelligence is nothing but you have to be emotionally intelligent enough not to be aggressive and also polite, proactive in your expression. Your assertiveness in expression should make others proactive and not provocative to act differently. You have to be eternally patient to become highly effective in Assertive expression. When Lord Krishna went to the Court of Dhritharastra as the Emissary of Pandavas, he asserted to Duryodhana, that no one, no one, even thousands of Karnas cannot save you from the clutches of death. This is what is called Assertiveness Skills of a Leader who can control the Universe and always on the side of Dharma.

Balance in Assertiveness

Here is a story which we can relate to the need of balance in assertiveness. Assertiveness is like a string in the Sitar which has to be rightly tuned to create right kind of music. In the same way, Assertiveness in Communication must be balanced appropriately, to get the things done from the Subordinates, colleagues, peers in the work place. This quality trait is the need of the hour for the Leaders across the organizations. If one loses the balance in Assertiveness, it will become aggressiveness. To bring the employees into the ‘Effective Zone’ of expression and action, let us see the need of balancing in this anecdote ‘Right level’.

“One day two musicians happened to pass by the tree under which Buddha was sitting in meditation. One was saying to the other. “Do not tighten the strings of your sitar too much or they will. Do now keep them too loose either, they will produce no music. Keep to the right level!”

Assertiveness and Perception

Assertiveness can change the perception and may lead to misconception: Let us see this in this well known story ‘The Brahmin and the goat’.

Once, a Brahmin was carrying a goat on his shoulders. Three rogues saw him, and formulated a plan to acquire the goat.

One of them went up to the Brahmin and asked, most politely, “Why are you carrying that dog on your shoulders, Sir? The Brahmin shouted at him, and went his way, muttering angrily.

He had not walked long when the second rogue met him and expressed surprise at seeing a Brahmin carrying a dead calf. Again the Brahmin shouted, but now not so confidently; and he went on. He kept glancing nervously at his load to make sure it was a goat, and a live one.

Soon, he met the third rogue, who said, “Sir, it is not improper for a Brahmin even to touch a donkey, let alone carry it on his shoulders, as you are doing?”

Now the Brahmin was really puzzled, and scared. “Am I carrying a demon,” he asked himself, “which can appear as different things to different men?” He flung the goat down in panic and ran away. The rogue picked up the goat, and happily joined his friends. The plan had worked.

The lesson one can learn from this story is that even if you assert lies, they may be effective for immediate gains and definitely not in the long run. The kind of rogues described in the story may some times spoil your chances to move ahead in the workplace. Beware of this kind of misguiding and misleading assertiveness which may harm employees, careers and organizations. This, we can relate to the ‘Satyam Fiasco’ of financial misleading by the promoters themselves for selfish gains and ultimately spoiling the image of organization built with sweat and toil of 53,000 employees over a period of more than two decades. Do we need any proof that now-a-days; some organizations are run by Gobles?

Spiritual Quotient and Assertiveness

Life is a cleansing process. Spiritual quotient will help you cleanse from your sins, with which your heart becomes impure and loses the confidence to become assertive. A person with lack of confidence cannot assert himself either in interview or in the workplace. Spiritual Quotient will bestow the power to assert oneself and succeed in their professional as well as personal life. In fact, if you are spiritual, there are no two lives like professional or personal life. All mingle like one – two bodies and one soul and contribute to the individual’s success without any doubt. One has to develop this Spiritual quotient through meditation i.e. Sadhana. There is a proven three fold path to enhance our Spiritual Quotient, through which we can assert ourselves to control others thoughts and actions.


Aradhana and


People who know how to translate life’s problems and struggles into spiritual issues can often find more gratifying and rewarding solutions to these problems through their spiritual IQs.


1. Flexibility

2. Self-awareness

3. An ability to face and use suffering

4. The ability to be inspired by a vision

5. An ability to see connections between diverse things (thinking holistically)

6. A desire and capacity to cause as little harm as possible

7. A tendency to probe and ask fundamental questions

8. An ability to work against convention

Where you can find these qualities in the Modern Age? I could see these qualities only Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. Let us see this anecdote from the life of a Preacher, which depicts the effectiveness of assertiveness when you are free from the guilt of having harmful habits.

Ramu, like some others in his village Musori, got addicted to eating an herb which tasted nice, but was injurious to health. He would not listen even to his grandmother when told to stop the habit. So she took him to a Swamiji in the same village and requested him to advice Ramu. Instead, the Swamiji asked the old lady to bring the boy back after a month. A month later the Swamiji asked Ramu to abandon the habit and as he was obeyed by the whole village, Ramu gave up the habit. Now, the grandmother wondered why the Swamiji did not give the same advice a month back, and asked him. The great man replied, “A month ago I myself was addicted to the herb. It took me a month to give up the habit.”

In this anecdote, the Swamiji is having the same habit like Ramu, which he cannot get rid of, and could not direct the boy assertively due to this weakness. Once he got rid of the habit after one month, he could assertively direct the boy to give up immediately. This is as simple as that if a father is smoking, he cannot stop his Children from smoking, as he lost the power of assertiveness in expression due to his bad habit. This kind of self-control and assertiveness can be achieved only through ‘Sadhana’.

Four behavioural traits to demonstrate Assertiveness in expression and action

Our scriptures say that to get the things done, one has to follow the path of four upayas (ideas) i.e. four ways of action plan. These four action plans are called Sama, Daana, Bheda and Dandopaya.

‘Sama’ means ‘persuasion’. A leader has to pursue his subordinates to get the things done through continuous persuasion by explaining the pros and cons of the situation. Generally, many corporate leaders persuade their employees to assert their view point and get the things done to their favour and for the benefit of the organization.

‘Daana’ means using carrot. We all know the concept of carrot and stick. Whenever, there is a need, the corporate leaders show the carrot to woo the employees and if they do not need the services of the staff, they use the ‘stick’ and compel to resign without issuing pink slips. Most of the corporate bosses do not want to give away ‘Daana’ i.e. ‘Carrot’ to woo their employees, and if possible they will continue to squeeze the employees till they resist and revolt against this kind of behaviour of superiors. These kinds of bosses only look for exceptional performance and never exercise appraisals.

‘Bheda’ means ‘creating rift’, manipulating or mismanaging relationships. This kind of behaviour is normal from the Bosses who spread politics down the line which is inevitable and part of corporate politics. This kind of behaviour from bosses is expected when they want to assert that they do not want see any kind of Unions and labour unrest or knowledge labour resistance in the organization.

‘Danda’ means punishment. An enemy or an employee must be punished with all assertion, if he does not perform for the benefit of the organization and selfish to the core only taking care of his personal interests. This is the ultimate action to be initiated where indiscipline is the order of the day and chaos is spread across the organization and performance was marred with the behaviour of even one employee. A rotten apple must be removed from the basket; otherwise it will spoil the whole basket. Organisations cannot afford to use this action plan against employees, as it will spoil the ‘performance culture’ of the Company. Many bosses feel that if one is punished with all the assertion i.e. to the open knowledge of public and employees, it will discipline the organization for better. But this perception of assertiveness in action is not worth discussing, which is not at all worth pursuing in these days of knowledge economy.

One has to master these traits and demonstrate with balance, according to the need of the situation, to become Leader with all the assertiveness required to run an organisation.

Mahatma Gandhi and Assertiveness in Action

Mahatma Gandhi is a Karma Yogi. When Independence was achieved in the midnight of 15th August, 1947, Gandhiji’s immediate reaction is that the Congress must be abolished as the purpose of the party was served successfully i.e. throwing away British from the land of India. But many leaders opposed to abolish Congress to enjoy the fruits of their labour i.e. power. Mahatma Gandhi was in a slum in Kolkata serving the poor in that night, when entire India was celebrating the spirit of freedom. This is what is truly called ‘Assertiveness in Action’, where ‘Karma Yogi’ never looks for results and leave for others to enjoy.

‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – assertiveness will have the power, if it is uttered from the heart with the soulful support of Spiritual Quotient i.e. unparallel ‘Sadhana’. A great ‘Spiritual Sadhaka’ himself, Gandhiji knows this truth with deep conviction. Thus his famous quote is apt to be mentioned here for our further learning experience. “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” A true leader of masses in his own style, Gandhiji’s leadership qualities can be named as ‘Gandhian Leadership’ or popularly known as ‘Gandhigiri’! One day, when he was travelling from Durban to Pretoria in the first class compartment of a train, a British man boarded the compartment. On seeing Gandhiji, the British man got furious. He called the Railway officer, and both ordered him to get out of the train. Since Gandhiji had purchased a first class ticket, he refused to do so. However, they paid no heed to him. Gandhiji also did not budge. Finally the police were summoned. They pushed him out of the compartment and threw his luggage out of the window. Gandhiji had to spend the whole night on the platform.

It is a known fact that Gandhiji’s life has changed after this incident and he firmly decided to fight against the mighty British Empire, which has already sown its seeds of oppression in India. Gandhiji’s assertiveness in action has seen the British thrown out of India and he was fondly titled by the nation as ‘Father of Nation’. This incident made Mahatma Gandhi to become assertive in action through out his life and he never diverted from his path of convictions.


Assertiveness is the quality of Leaders. No one can become leader without abundance of assertiveness skills. Every Leader will have their own way of demonstrating their assertiveness to get the things done in the workplace. One can identify the assertiveness of Organisations with the way they are exposing themselves to the general public. Lack of assertiveness means lack of confidence and lack of confidence means, lack of leadership qualities. A Leader without Assertiveness Skills cannot manage people. Assertiveness is the key to master the art of people management.

Finally, as propounded by Sharon Anthony Bower ‘The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well being of others.’

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