Five techniques every leader should use to appear assertive and likable

In 2020 Inc.com has published an article on the gap of the leadership presence. According to the data shared, there is a severe gap between leaders’ self-acceptance and the view of their followers. The article stated that as many as fifty-one percent of the leaders are seen in a completely different image than they want to present to the public. While mid-level leaders are close to the people, the gap between the self-image and the image projected for the others is more minor. The higher a leader climbs into the corporate ladder, the bigger the gap shows.

The gap between projected and accepted behavior causes different issues. Often leaders do not understand that gap and blame external factors like mistrust, lack of loyalty, disengagement, etc. This blame culture has grown so much that many leaders accept it as usual in their lives and work. Leaders do not assume that the more significant part of the list of reasons for losing good people and not achieving results is within them. Focusing on this more substantial part, they can quickly turn situations and behavior from negative to positive, disengagement to engagement, poor results into great results.

And while many trainers and consultants deliver different pieces of training on how to achieve that, here are five techniques every leader can use to change the current situation for good. These five techniques are extracted from the answers of more than 3000 leaders.


You cannot start something with a group of people if you do not feel them or they feel you close. When I began my work journey, I often heard a sentence at work “We are not here to like each other, but to work.” It sounded OK then because the companies worked more focused on processes instead of people. But things have changed so much. People do not work with people they do not like in some way. Likeliness attracts similar people with similar beliefs and work styles in productive groups, called teams (definition of JJ Abrahams, 2007). So it has become imperative that companies invest in finding people who can achieve results, not because of predefined processes, but people who can work together because they demonstrate similar behaviors. The leader is not an exception. And the role of the leader is now even more complex. There is no process he can hide behind. There is no office; he can close the door and stay by himself. The leader now must work, by the values predefined and widely communicated in the company, must be an example of what these values represent and be honest to everyone, no matter the level of personal likeliness, to show that there are ethical norms the workplace. Only that leader can be liked by others and get support to achieve great things with the team.


Employees today want to see the human side of the leader. They do not want to work for a machine. In light of that, the leader must show himself in the way he works, feels, and reacts in the workplace and outside. The demand of the new reality to the leaders is for them to show that they think, are vulnerable, can cry, are weak sometimes, need help as everyone other needs. The human side of leadership is no longer a possible reaction but expected behavior. And only leaders who show their human side can succeed. People need to see that the one leading is just like them. Instead of behaving like a superhuman, the leader must now be ready to show his humanized side, weaknesses, mistakes, and readiness to hear others and admit that there are many ways to approach a single task. If people do not believe that the leader is like them, they will not follow, accomplish everyday challenges and not deliver results. In the long run, the leader who is not trusted to be like the others loses his followers, or said, people, leave searching for the one leader who will see himself just as everyone else sees themselves.  


The world has moved from transactional activities to individual contributions in every single area. Today people do not need to see that they are part of a big machine, and their work is one of the wheels that makes this machine move. Now people want to see that what they do is meaningful and appreciated by someone else. The leader’s task here is to find a way to individualize this appreciation. We no longer want to feel about company success but are more focused on hearing how our contribution has helped the company and that the right people see our gift. And NO, this is not Ego. It is more like fuel for our internal engine. The proper appreciation of our efforts fuels our internal motivation and engagement to continue doing what we do. In a more complex world, that need for personal preference and recognition rises exponentially year after year. And if the leader misses the moment, there may not be a next moment to seize.


No matter what the leader does, there always will be someone who plays the role of the annoying person not playing by the rules. Driven by the Ego, the leader can easily turn to the authority and the formal power given to handle the situation in situations like this. In an HBR article from 2020 about how leaders deal with inappropriate behavior, the author says that forty-six percent of all leaders react that way in half of the situations they have to solve. While the culture has shifted from collective and driven by external rules to individual and driven by internal standards and understandings, that behavior can harm more than help. In the same article, the author states that sixty-two percent of people do not trust their leaders’ words because speech differs from the leader’s body language.  And at the same time, people often face the un-comfortability of hearing about values and accepted behaviors and see the opposite actions from the leader. To be successful in this one, the leader must first be relaxed and positive and then work toward what he wants to see as behavior without being pushy, arrogant, or offensive. The keyword here is humbleness. A humble leader with a strong presence in his conduct of values and positive attitudes and no compromises for the deviations of that behavior is that one that can win the hearts and the minds of the people around him.


I have been in such a situation several times. For example, talking to a leader who says he listens to me, but at the same time, his body language shows that he is not agreeing with what I am saying. One of the non-verbal signs that disturb situations, for example, is shaking heads. While this sign is seen in different cultures in opposite roles, it can be easily understood not correctly. For example, in some cultures shaking head horizontally means approval, while in others, it is seen as disapproval.

People need when approaching the leader is not someone to teach them, but a person who can validate what they think and plan to do. No matter the situation, the leader should not go into a meeting or conversation to change the person’s behavior, intent, or plans but to validate and show support for them. There is no right or wrong way to do something; there is only my and your way of doing things. And the role of the leader is to support the course of the person doing things to allow learning and development. The leader must look at this process more like a negotiation. Validating the final approach of doing something will mean agreeing with the plan but stressing the results and validation elements in the process. The person coming to validate his practice with the leader must clearly understand the expected outcomes and find a way to adapt his work style toward them.


Today, the leadership role is a tuff subject. Regardless of age, gender, or place of origin, leaders must be there for their teams and support them to do the work they see to be done. If not in this direction, the leader’s behavior can cause distance in the relationship between him and people working with him.  Focusing on building likeability and expressing assertiveness is vital for moving teams and results ahead.


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