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Assertive vs. aggressive leaders – What works?

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Successful companies and assertive leaders go hand in hand. Just think of Steve Jobs and Apple or Jack Welch and GE. But what exactly distinguishes theses leaders from a choleric football coach? Here you can find the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

Assertive and aggressive

“The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well-being of others” – Sharon Anthony Bower

In other words, assertiveness is described as ‘a form of communication in which needs or wishes are stated clearly with respect for oneself and the other person in the communication’

Aggressiveness on the other hand is described as “a form of physical or verbal behavior leading to self-assertion; it is often angry and destructive and intended to be injurious, physically or emotionally, and aimed at domination of one person by another”.

Here are some examples which show the difference in these behaviors and how they can manifest in the workplace environment.

2 types of leaders in the workplace

Assertive leader

  • We can all win’
  • Ideas, opinions and feelings are expressed in an open honest manner
  • Both positive and negative elements can be discussed
  • They work on facts not opinions and emotions
  • They work to find a compromise or solution
  • They respect the rights of everyone else

Aggressive leader

  • I win-you lose’
  • No debate
  • Threats, manipulation and blame are evident
  • They want to get their own way
  • Cold, hard and sarcastic tone of voice
  • Leadership position feelings of superiority. This may be maintained by putting other people down

As with any form of communication or behavior it is also what is not said that adds to the impact or standing as a leader. Expressing assertive views whilst displaying aggressive or submissive body language will give your team mixed messages. As will ‘flipping’ rapidly between different styles. We may have all encountered leaders who staff have to ‘weigh up’ in the morning to ascertain what mood they are in or what behavior they are showing.

Body Language

Assertive leader

  • Open body language
  • Steady eye contact
  • Respectful of body space
  • Warm smile
  • Open steady gestures

Aggressive leader

  • Pointing
  • Aggressive gesturing
  • Striding around
  • Staring / glaring
  • Thumping fists pointing

The importance of being assertive – To you

  • Increased self-esteem and self-confidence
  • You feel able to express yourself rather than leaving things ‘bottled up’
  • You can feel and be true to yourself, your opinions and your values
  • You are less likely to blame others because you take responsibility
  • You appear confident and therefore as a leader you are trusted and your decisions are viewed with confidence

The importance of being assertive – To your team

  • Your team gain confidence in themselves because they are listened to and are an integral part of the team
  • Your team has confidence in you and your ability to make sound judgments
  • You are more able to deal with aggressive and submissive team members thereby ensuring everyone has an equal weighting
  • The team knows what you expect from them
  • Your team knows what to expect from you
  • Everyone is able to ‘put their cards on the table’ knowing that they opinion will count

As you can see, the notion of acting assertively and being able to manage potential or actual team conflict are entwined. Leaders who are assertive work towards a win-win situation. This is in stark contrast to aggressive leader who wants to win at any cost.

If you would like to learn more about the concept and the principles of leadership, we recommend the free eBook “Top Ten Leadership Skills” written by Sarah Simpson.

Top Ten Leadership Skills

To find out more about leadership skills, read our eBook "Top Ten Leadership Skills".

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