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Assertive Leadership Through Clear Agreement Making

If you think you need to be more assertive as a leader, reflect first on what you need to be assertive about. If it’s not clear to you, then you run the risk of being too aggressive by demanding something from your team that you can’t clearly explain. Instead, become assertive about making clear agreements.

Following is a story about a client leader, let’s call her Rachel. Rachel was concerned she was not being assertive enough with her staff. Projects were beginning to meander. During regular check-ins, the updates were always reasonable. She could picture herself giving those same updates. So, she let the project continue to meander until the next check-in when this would happen all over again.

The problem was that nothing was getting done. In the updates, it felt like there was some progress, but nothing was completed.

Rachel started to wonder if she needed to be more assertive and demanding when projects were not where they should be. The challenge was there was no clarity on where the project should be. There was no agreement with the project leaders on what needed to be completed next and when it would be done.

It’s hard to hold someone accountable if there are no specifics to hold them accountable to!

In this situation, the first job of the leader is to work with the people responsible for doing the work and agree on a deliverable and a target date for delivery. At some point in the future, it may be decided that either the deliverable needs to change or the date needs to change.

That’s fair, as long as everyone is clear with each other on why the change happened. Later, you could do a post-mortem to discuss the delays and see if there are lessons the organization can learn. You can’t do this unless you are clear upfront as to why the delay occurred.

When you are making agreements with others it’s not uncommon for there to be unknowns such that a target date cannot be set. In that situation, first, make an agreement on researching the unknown. A mentor of mine has this great line. When someone would say “I can’t give you a date because I don’t know when that can be done.” He would then ask, “On what date can you give me a date?”

That then becomes the next agreement - on that date, whoever is responsible for the task will provide a date that it can be completed.

Rachel went back to her team and got assertive about making agreements where there was no clarity. The regular check-ins are now filled with substantive conversations about progress toward specific objectives and how to move through the blockers that arise. Everyone feels more productive. And Rachel avoided over-correcting her passive leadership into aggressive demands.

How comfortable are you with making agreements? Do you make clear agreements that support accountability? Schedule time with me here if you need help and want to discuss.

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