James T. Kirk School of Assertiveness Training

In a previous blog post, I explored the qualities and attributes of motivation in relation to management. I concluded that leaders are not born with the innate skill to motivate; it is something they develop over time.  Remember, to find work that is interesting and meaningful for your staff.


The Gallup study stated that after motivator, assertiveness was the second quality employees want to see in their leaders. As I was writing, I wondered who personified the traditional assertive, take-charge management style. James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise was the obvious choice. Captain Kirk relied on his own instincts, defying at times facts and logic. I thought and excogitated about this approach working in the real world.


Captain Kirk:Intuition, however illogical, is recognized as a command prerogative.”


Management by intuition seemed perilous. Let’s explore the idea of assertiveness. A leader that is overtly assertive risks the label of dictator. On the other side of the spectrum, benevolent dictatorship has a certain appeal but is not highly effective, creating an environment of simple compliance.


Leaders that lack assertiveness are thought to be wishy-washy or spineless. If there is confusion around the issue please reference “Pointy Hair Boss” http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/Pointy-Haired_Boss. This character is both spineless and a mini dictator.


Ames defines assertiveness as “A characterization of how a person responds in a situation which his or her positions and/or interests are, or could be, in conflict with others’ positions or interests.”


Ames goes on to define the term to be a dimension in everyday perceptions reflecting an individual’s interpersonal willingness to stand up and speak out for their own interests and ideas, resisting others’ positions and pursuing their own objectives. Are you willing to stand up and express a point of view that might be unpopular or cause conflict with others?


Kirk was willing to question the system and challenge the rules. He is the quintessential lone wolf and this self-reliance has proven to be the key to his success.


SPOCK: Has it occurred to you that there’s a certain … inefficiency in constantly questioning me on things you’ve already made up your mind about?

KIRK: It gives me emotional security.


Kirk is a leader that makes up his mind first and then listens to others; a management technique I have seen executed often in my career.

Assertiveness is not necessarily self-serving or narcissistic, it does not have to involve conflict or aggression. It can certainly be associated with those attributes, but in the professional context, we are exploring the idea of appropriate and proportional assertiveness.


Assertiveness is subjective, do you see yourself as an assertive person and how do your colleagues view you? Is there agreement in how you see yourself and how others view you or is there a dissonance in perspectives?


In Ames’s study, he found that the research showed that assertiveness was considered a weakness when it was both over and underused. 25% of study respondents thought it was a weakness when a boss was overtly assertive and 25% thought it was a weakness when their boss was indecisive.


According to the Gallup study, assertiveness is a key indicator determining success as a manager and effectiveness as a leader. If you want to take on a management or leadership role within an organization, it is my opinion that it is worth spending a little time figuring this out.


This graph showing assertiveness versus effectiveness might make you think that to be an effective leader you need to gauge your assertiveness somewhere in the middle. It is not that simple. Individuals who are perceived as overtly assertive are seen to be less likeable. Intuitively this makes sense, nobody really likes being pushed around by someone who has to get their way all the time.


Social outcomes such as strong interpersonal relationships, trust, and an ability to get along with others are key components in effective leadership. The ability to negotiate, and to be accommodating of opposing ideas are also essential skills. Influencing, in my opinion, is a preferred form of assertiveness. The ability to influence others promotes discussion, as opposed to assertion – which can be heard as declarative by others and is a real conversation stopper.


A leader needs to have a keen sense of situational awareness and be able to adjust to the circumstances. This means sometimes being assertive and other times not – trying constantly to strike that balance. In the end, it is really about the relationship you have with others.


SPOCK: “You have been – and always shall be – my friend”


Captain Kirk has clearly gained some social capital with Spock. Their friendship, as far as I can tell, is the only thing that permitted Spock to tolerate Kirk’s erratic and reckless leadership style. Logic would have dictated that Spock should have left Kirk’s command years ago and followed his own career with Starfleet.


The reality is that a leader is not going to get it right most of the time. If your team likes you and sees that you are well intended, listening to their thoughts and ideas (and recognize that you are not an egomaniac) they will cut you a lot of slack. They want the best solution and want to work with you and to be part of the team. They want to talk to you and they want their ideas heard. Everyone wants to make a meaningful difference.


Leadership is a powerful elixir and it can unleash the bully and feed the ego. Leadership is a temporary privilege, do not waste the opportunity you have been given.


I have a confession. I have not boldly gone where no man has gone before. I have not thumped an alien life form with my bare fist. I am not a Captain James T. Kirk hyper type-A kind of person. I follow Starfleet’s policies and procedures and try not to think that I am the only one that can beam down to the planet and strut around oozing bravado and thinking, “thank god I am here to get this job done”. I am the kind of captain that recognizes that he has a team of super bright Vulcans onboard and it would be smart to consult them. Also, it might be wise to listen to the red shirts crew and get them some better weapons and body armor when they beam down to do reconnaissance. My goal is that we all get back to the ship and continue with our voyage.




Works Cited

Ames, Daniel. “Pushing up to a Point: Assertiveness and Effectiveness in Leadership and Interpersonal Dynamics.” Research in Organizational Behavior, vol. 29, 2009, pp. 111–133., doi:10.1016/j.riob.2009.06.010.