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Leadership without Assertiveness

by Gordon MacKay MBA BSc(Hons) BA(Hons) MAPM MInstLM
(Cumbria UK)

Once upon a time, Leadership, was courted by Assertiveness.

Assertiveness offered Leadership a magic cloak: one that disguised, and so rendered acceptable, the exercise of coercive and dominant controlling behaviours. Leadership, beguiled by the apparent authority of Assertiveness, was persuaded there might be circumstances and battles where it could win the day. Assertiveness, in its disingenuous application of presumed authority, successfully suppressed all questions and any hint that such circumstances and battles might be anticipated, and avoided…

For generations the front and pretence Assertiveness erected, was maintained. But, with time, the dependence of those in power relied increasingly on consensual support as the absolute power of Ghengis Khan and the powerful dictators gave way to more democratic organisations and ‘conversations’: for the people were, through revolutions and education, becoming more aware and outspoken about inequalities and injustices.

Assertiveness realised its behaviours were coming under increasing scrutiny and criticism: seen as representing a primal and out-dated world of machismo and institutional violence. Guillotines and barricades were in evidence. Assertiveness and its thin veneer and disguise of respectability were coming under sporadic but increasing scrutiny.

But Assertiveness persisted in its need and mission. It insinuated itself into the growing body of Theories of Management, organisational behaviour, and leadership. It found a ready audience for, and exploited with alacrity; all those seeking legitimisation for their preferred behaviours of domination and control. The followers and team members were not a part of the conversation. They were excluded: intentionally kept ignorant of the puppeteers strings: the mechanisms of control exerted upon them, and, like a magician’s audience in awe, yet aware all was not as it seemed: they could not quite put their finger on the strings to which they danced.

And so it was, Leadership had embraced Assertiveness as an adopted member: as behaviour that might be necessary; now; and then – when the building was on fire, or someone behaved really badly.

But Assertiveness had found it’s platform; one that appealed to those for whom its adoption endowed power; to them the personal benefits of its proud exhibition, endorsement and deployment were clear.

Very soon this seductively addictive exercise of Assertiveness came to characterise Leadership itself: became, it seemed to the many, an expected necessary indicator and ingredient of leadership behaviour.

True leadership was driven to the margins. Contradictory teachings advocated inspirational leadership and the nurturing of individual and team synergies, while promoting counter-productive ‘Assertiveness’ in command and control.

Few noticed the contradictions and harm being done; until Servant Leadership and AGILE emerged; necessitating a starkly contrasting radically alternative approach to the dominant (sic) paradigm: one where empowerment flourished, and synergies emerged and blossomed.

Suddenly this dawning awareness reached critical mass: fed a ‘phase transition’; a paradigm shift. At last the veil was torn and fell away: the emperors clothes revealed: the redundancy of assertiveness in leadership was exposed!

Leadership at long last stood, like Atlas it shrugged and away and downwards fell the tarnished blood-soaked mantle of assertiveness: revealing its true colours: its’ very nature and function as nothing more than a straitjacket.

Standing tall Leadership stretched and raised its eyes to a new day’s dawning and unimagined horizons, raised its arms to the sky while mighty golden wings now unfolded, unfettered, spreading outwards and upwards, bearing aloft on its mighty broad back with a mighty roar, those it previously dragged in chains behind….

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