You know what really chaps my ass? Men who write articles telling women how to be successful in business.

They tell us to act more like a man. They tell us to be more direct, say what you mean and be more aggressive.

Uh, gee, thanks, fella. Wouldn’t I rather hear how women can be successful from women who’ve been there, done that? Yep, I would.

Oh sure, they might know how to get ahead in the corporate world as a man but until they’ve walked a mile in our heels, they really have no idea. Sure, there can be some value in understanding how the ‘boys club’ — or any clique in your organization — functions but that doesn’t mean I want to become someone I’m not.

The difference between ‘aggressive’ and ‘assertive’

Here’s my idea:

Be more assertive, not aggressive.

Yes, there’s a difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Being assertive means you’re confident and owning who you are, what you need and what you want to achieve. Being aggressive means you aren’t considering anyone else’s needs or feelings.

In short, it’s the difference between being the Leadership Lioness and being the bull in a china shop.

When you become the Leadership Lioness, you are strong and powerful. You roar with pride while you nurture your pack and help lead the hunt.

Now doesn’t that sound more successful than storming through the shop and breaking everything in your path?

An assertiveness pie

Most office environments feature moments of collaboration and moments of conflict. When you walk into these situations, you face how they affect you and how they affect others.

And of course, the context matters.

Think of it as a pie (no ice cream for me, thanks)

If you concentrate on only:

  • The self: You’re arrogant and aggressive. You don’t give a shit about what others are thinking or feeling.
  • The others: You’re too passive. You’ve put yourself in a place of people pleasing.
  • The context: You get mired in the details and you lose sight of the human element, how the plan and the outcome affect everyone, including you.

When you’re a healthy, assertive person, you take all three slices of the pie and give them equal treatment.

You stand up for your beliefs, values and desires while you respect and expect others to do the same — even if they’re not in agreement with yours.

You allow all voices to be heard and bring everyone together on the same path. Not everyone may agree but, if they understand it’s the best path to achieve the team’s business objectives and are given tasks that support their strengths, you can reach alignment.

And that means everyone can feel good about the team and its plan.

Putting the pieces together

OK, Leadership Lionesses of the future, we want to know how to be more assertive.

That is the tough part, because it’s really about building a strong sense of self. Some experts claim good leaders need to stop listening to their guts and put their brains in charge.

I say no way.

If you’re taking your emotions out of the equation, you aren’t being true to who you are. The right way to become a Leadership Lioness is to be aware of how your emotions have impact — on yourself, on others, and on the progress and outcome of the situation.

You must trust your gut and use your brain to lead you to where you need to go.

[tweetthis]Improving our self-esteem often means stepping more fully into who we are and owning it.[/tweetthis]

Here’s how:

1. Be persistent.

Summon your courage and speak up. You need to have a voice and be consistent and persistent with it. As you get better at persistence, you will find yourself becoming more confident in yourself and your voice. And then you’re becoming more assertive. Confidence takes practice.

2. Use “I” statements.

Start practising including yourself in your statements to the group. Try “I’d like to see” or “this is how I feel” in planning meetings. Start owning what you’re saying or asking for.

3. Understand the difference between passive, assertive and aggressive.

If you’re passive, you’re too nice or not participating. If you’re aggressive, you’re manipulative and dominating. If you’re assertive, you’re on a constant search for the win-win-win. You’re making an active decision, not a reaction.

4. Encompass the self, others and the context.

Take all three factors into consideration when you’re approaching an office collaboration or conflict. Remember that your behaviour may change based on the situation. For example, you may need to cross a street. On one day, it’s safe to lead your team to the other side. The next day, there’s too much traffic and you have to keep everyone where they are.

5. Look for the workable compromise.

Here’s that agreement vs. alignment factor. A strong, successful team always has diversity of opinion. Rarely will every team member agree on the path and the solution, but it’s up to the Leadership Lioness to help everyone realize the middle ground can achieve the outcome everyone wants or needs. It will definitely challenge your communication and social skills.

You can be a Leadership Lioness and find success in the office.

It just takes some work. Most importantly, it takes remembering to stay human and true to who you are.

Images courtesy of stockimages at

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