How I Became More Assertive As A Leader

Most Leaders Need to Become More Assertive

As a young woman in the aerospace industry, I had to quickly learn how to be more assertive in order to earn the respect of my Air Force and ex-Air Force male counterparts.

My Physical Presence and Mannerisms Weren’t Assertive

I was lucky enough to have a male mentor who gave me feedback about how my physical presence wasn’t projecting enough confidence and assertiveness in my interactions with other leaders.

He pointed out that I didn’t take up enough space when I entered a room or sat down at the table, that often I crossed my arms and legs during meetings, and how I looked down instead of at the participants in meetings. Also, he noted that I had a tendency to laugh and smile too much and observed that when I put my pen or pad of paper on the table, I put it down too gently.

Observing Assertive Role Models Helped Me Increase My Assertiveness

He helped me identify which leaders had an assertive style and told me I should emulate them. I observed those leaders and found ways to make my physical presence more like theirs.

The change was gradual, but eventually, it built into a big change. I worked hard to shift my physical presence to be more assertive, and when I made the shift, my peers started listening to me more and eventually started looking to me for my input on issues.

I Eliminated My Limiting Beliefs to Increase My Assertiveness

Later I worked with several Leadership Coaches, who helped me shift some of my limiting beliefs that were resulting in passive behavior. They also helped me shape my leadership vision, which helped me have more conviction and purpose as I communicated with my staff. I became even more assertive and my leadership effectiveness increased.

Over time, I became an even more assertive leader.

How I Became a More Assertive Leader

In the video below, Donna Schilder, MCC, Executive Coach & President explains to Sherri Cannon, PCC, Executive Coach how she became a more assertive leader:

How I Became More Assertive as a Leader

How I Became More Assertive as a Leader – Video Transcript

Sherri Cannon, PCC, Executive Coach:

So, if I were watching us have this conversation, I would want me to surprise you with this question. So, may I do that?

Donna Schilder, MCC, Executive Coach:

Of course.


Here’s my question. You opened the curtain a little bit, right? And said that you had been that passive leader?


Mm-hmm (affirmative).


What can you tell us about … I mean, how did you figure it out? Did you know what … just like, what’s your story about that?

A Leadership Mentor Can Help You Shape How You Present Yourself


Yeah. So, I had a mentor in the aerospace industry. He was a male and he was more gentle in giving me feedback about being too passive. And he coached me around how I entered a room, how I sat, how I put something down on the desk instead of putting it down like this, put it down and those images. He pointed out who I should emulate, and so I worked on that. It took time.

Beliefs Ingrained from the Past Can Get in the Way of Being Assertive

I also worked with coaches and there were beliefs from my childhood, from teachers and parents, that impacted me that I needed to shift and thoughts as well. And just over time, I mean, I just kept getting more and more and more assertive. And it’s funny because I visited my cousin not too long ago, and she said, “The one thing that’s so different about you is how assertive you are now.” And she knows me from when I was a child.


Yeah. Well, that’s definitely your street cred for the poster child, right? For having really walked your own talk.




That’s pretty cool.

Women Leaders in Male-Dominated Professions Need to Lean-In to Being Assertive


Yes. It was really hard walking into a room of Air Force men, all men, Air Force, technical people and so forth, and being the only woman and having to run the meeting or interact with them. And I really had to step up and learn. And I’m so grateful that I was able to get some help in doing that.

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