In a recent Quiet Revolution blog, Susan Cain discussed the need for leaders to temper their assertiveness ( She and the researchers she cites suggest that assertiveness is most effective in moderation. There’s a sweet spot between not advocating and pushing too hard that many leaders struggle to find. At Bates, our research has shown that seeking the middle ground may not be enough.

Using data from the Executive Presence Index (ExPI), our proprietary and scientifically-based 360 assessment of senior leadership influence, we contrasted ratings of high growth and low growth business leaders across fifteen facets of leadership behavior. The ability of a leader to grow their business provided a measure of the leader’s impact. We’d expected all fifteen facets to matter, but were surprised to discover that one of the facets, Assertiveness – the leader’s ability to put their ideas forward and manage conflict – wasn’t an indicator of success. In other words, leaders who scored highly in assertiveness were no more likely to be high growth leaders than to be low growth leaders.

How could assertiveness not matter in leadership? We realized that many of the behaviors we measure in assessing assertiveness could cut both ways. For instance, a leader making her thoughts and feelings known could be productive, but inappropriate, ill-timed, or insensitive sharing could be counterproductive.

Fortunately, the ExPI also looks at a leader’s Resonance – the leader’s ability to be attuned to others and adapt appropriately. When we looked at leaders who excelled at both Assertiveness and Resonance, the likelihood of being a high growth leader soared to over 80%. The combination of qualities made a tremendous difference.

Assertiveness is most effective when the leader is attuned to how their ideas are being received and adapts their approach to the context. Rather than being more or less assertive, successful leaders are “resonantly assertive.”

To learn more about the 15 facets, and where Assertiveness and Resonance fit in, visit this page.

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