Sometimes the most accurate way of defining one thing is to compare it others. This is one of those times! So, before trying to paint a picture of what assertiveness is, let’s dedicate a couple of sentences to establishing what it is not.
If you are exhibiting assertiveness, you are in the process of distinguishing yourself from passivity. When you are passive, you “go with the flow,” “let things slide” and don’t “get your dander up.” And you repeatedly beg people to “chill!” You are docile; you are submissive; you could accurately be characterized as simply not being engaged or having thoughts on the matter in question. You accept or allow decisions to be made and courses of action to be pursued without active response or resistance.
On the other extreme, exhibiting assertiveness needs to be distinguished from being aggressive. When you are aggressive, you are “poised to attack,” “ready to confront” and “looking for a fight.” You seek to intimidate opponents and “push things through” that you are convinced are in the best interests of all. You are consumed with short-term wins and are quick to point out that, “The ends most assuredly justify the means!”
Somewhere in the middle of all that is assertiveness. You voice your opinions and share your views on important matters because you recognize it is your responsibility to do so. If you feel a line has somehow been crossed, you can be firm and direct—without becoming hostile or belligerent. Whether others wind up acknowledging or agreeing with your perspective is neither here nor there, but you do feel it is important to articulate that perspective and give others the potential benefit of your point of view.
As it relates to leadership, it is difficult to imagine an effective leader that could be categorized as either passive or aggressive. Along the same lines, it is also difficult to imagine an effective leader that did not confidently and assertively tell others what they thought, and why they thought it!