The servant-leader’s shadow side can entail an imbalanced tendency to please others at all times. We might not typically think of servant-leaders as assertive, but if we think about former Episcopal bishop Bennett Sims’ statement that servant-leadership is both velvet and steel, we can begin to rethink assertiveness for the servant-leader. According to “Psychology Today,”
Demonstrating assertiveness means there’s no question where you stand, no matter the topic. Cognitively, to be assertive implies a lack of anxious thoughts in light of stress. Behaviorally, assertiveness is all about asking for what you want in a manner that respects others. Assertive people don’t shy away from defending their points of view or goals, or from trying to influence others. In terms of affect, assertiveness means reacting to positive and negative emotions without aggression or resorting to passivity. (accessed 4/15/16)
Assertiveness is often confused with aggression, which it can lead to if unchecked. Staying one’s course does not have to elicit anger, either. The servant-leader has enough emotional intelligence to know the line between speaking up for herself (assertiveness) and bullying others into changing their position (aggression). Expressions of assertiveness, of course, might not always come out perfect and tidy: Conversations in which emotions are frayed rarely do. But a servant-leader has the self-awareness to acknowledge her or his inner emotional life while talking with others. He or she can even ask for feedback: “Did I come across as assertive or aggressive to you when I stated my position on our fundraising plan?” This kind of checking in builds trust, the touchstone of all healthy relationships.
President, The Gabriel Center for Servant-Leadership