Assertive leadership – A must for women!

Are you disinclined to say no even when necessary?

Do you tend to shy away from voicing your opinion? Driven by fear of offending others, do you gleefully forfeit opportunities for giving unsolicited feedback particularly to people occupying positions senior to yours? Do you have the tendency to beat about the bush using words laced with ambiguous overtones? Are you always keen to run away from difficult conversations for fear of hurting others? While you shy away from talking straight, are you known to follow the zero-impact route, always venting out in frustration in wrong forums, speaking behind the back of your friends and colleagues?

Whenever you muster the courage to share your views, do you tend to do so apologetically? Do you do all these things because you want to be considered collegial by all and would rather not risk ruining relationships that you consider important? If so, because of your patent disengagement and failure to commit emotionally and intellectually, you are a huge burden to people in your social and professional circles. If you have worked with people of this nature, you know the pain that comes with it.

Do you love listening to your own voice? Are you temperamentally inclined to be hostile, to pursue the sarcasm route even when unprovoked, to be intolerant of the views of others, to shift blame, all too often quick to arrogantly bark orders, demanding unquestioning obedience, many a time liberally using swear words? Out of fear of being considered weak, would you never apologise when you are clearly in the wrong? Do you think your character qualifies you to be described as an assertive person? If so, you may be confusing aggressiveness with assertiveness. Arrogant, forceful, and confrontational people always push their views, and while they may be fortunate to hit their targets, all that comes at a great cost. What cost? The cost of teamwork.

Are you respected by your colleagues as a person with the strength to hold your ground? Have you outgrown the childish tendency of seeking to please all and to be loved by all? Something that all mature people know is impossible! Do you voice your views clearly and respectfully?

Are you willing to listen to and reflect on constructive criticism? Does your demeanour encourage others to share their considered feedback with you? Do you ensure that you do not run away from confrontation and as you do that, do you have the maturity to deal with the issues wisely as opposed to attacking personalities? Do you avoid the trap of defensively holding rigidly to your views, knowing that such conduct can only be divisive? If so, you may have earned the bragging rights to viewing yourself as an assertive person.

Assertive leadership comes with burdens. One of those is the responsibility to be an exemplary moral agent who drives unity. The society tends to be more accommodative of assertive men. Speaking up is considered a masculine thing. When women venture into the same space, they are often rejected and labelled hostile, bossy and aggressive. This is a gender double-bind that results in the rejection of strong and assertive women and the marginalisation of those who choose to keep quiet.

Some aggressive men will always find excuses for rejecting confident women who refuse to be silenced. Owing to the fact that they are intimidated by the women’s strong sense of intellectual independence, eloquence and well-developed personal brand, they will find every possible excuse to denounce their views and label them abrasive, disingenuous and emotionally challenged. This, despite glaring and irrefutable facts!

Part of the arsenal used by men to legitimise their attacks on assertive women is to poke holes into the motives of such firebrands, questioning why they have been silent all along and calling them all sorts of unflattering epithets. Spurred on by a balanced sense of positive self-image, while smart women in positions of leadership appreciate the risk to speaking up without being rude, they often opt to break male-sponsored barriers to assertiveness. They know that they are well within their right to speak up and they reject the falsified notion that it is unfeminine to be assertive. Assertiveness is a communication skill, and we have reason to believe that women who have ascended to the summit of corporates such as BIFM, Botswana Insurance Holdings and ABSA master this skill quite well and have no doubt proved that they are worth listening to.

In the home setting, women who are fully cognisant of their worth cannot bind themselves to the view that they should be seen but not heard. Married women, whether breadwinners or not, are not vulnerable weaklings. Some weak and insecure men abuse the headship principle and browbeat their spouses into submissiveness. It takes a man of low self-esteem and compromised emotional intelligence to treat his wife like a minor.

Without being aggressive, assertive women would liberally and respectfully share their views with their husbands. They would stay clear of inviting resentment from their spouses by ensuring that they control their thoughts and emotions, and would passionately voice their concerns and views, choosing positive words without necessarily flattering the men. If their husbands are in the habit of not consulting them before making important decisions, they should respectfully demand a change in attitude, and where none is shown, they should be persistent in their quest without incessantly nagging their mates.

In households where both parents are alive, manipulative children often take advantage of their non-assertive mothers. While they are keen to show respect to their fathers, the children are normally casual and dismissive in their attitude to their mothers. It takes assertive mothers to instill discipline in such children. Since it is the collective responsibility of the parents to guide and discipline children, mothers should not shy away from embracing this responsibility, which would in some cases demand punishment that is aligned to the gravity of the wrongdoing. Mothers who are lax and choose to defer discipline of children to their husbands, risk not earning the respect of their children. Assertiveness becomes even more important in single-parent families where mothers are heads of family.

The world wants to set two standards of assertiveness, one that is favourable to men, and another that marginalises women. Women should reject all attempts at silencing men through a strong and assertive personality.

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