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Assertive vs. Collaborative Leadership

Harvest Business & Leadership Development's believes that people can and want to grow. We also believe there is no single best leadership style for encouraging growth. In our experience, we have found that seasoned leaders exhibit both an Assertive and Collaborative style of leadership. In this blog, I'll share a definition and examples of each leadership style as well as when to use each one.

Assertive vs. Collaborative Leadership Arrows pointing different directions

In my three decades of experience as a corporate executive, I've learned from some of the best leaders that the best leadership style is one which matches the developmental needs of the team member with whom you're working. Is the team member new to the task at hand? If so, then more guidance and direction are required if this is the case. Or is the team member knowledgeable and experienced? If this is the case, then a less hands-on supervision and a more collaborative approach is required.

Depending on the task, each of us is at a different stage of development. To bring out the best in others, we as leaders must be aware of the individual as well as the situation. People's development suffers when they are given too much or too little direction.

Harvest Business & Leadership Development's coaching takes a situational approach to effective leadership. This model is based on the belief that people can and want to grow, and that there is no single best leadership style for encouraging that growth.

Effective leaders, in our experience, exhibit both an Assertive and Collaborative style of leadership. To clarify, "Assertive Leadership Behaviors" are those that dictate the "what," "how," and "when" of a situation, while "Collaborative Leadership Behaviors" foster trust and respect among team members and promote personal development, leading to higher morale, self-assurance, output, and efficiency.

We'll dig deeper into specific Assertive and Collaborative behaviors that can help you be a more effective leader in your organization. Are you ready to begin? First, let's consider the Assertive Leadership Behaviors.


Assertive Leadership Behaviors shape and control what, how, and when things happen. Leaders with a high Assertive Leadership Behavior style tend to structure, define, organize, teach, and monitor effectively.

Four key assertive leadership behaviors

1. Develop Action Plans

Many of an organization's employees already have either a formal or an informal growth plan for themselves, and leaders are in an excellent position to be the ones to provide this much-needed support to their workforce. If you are in a managerial or executive role, you may find the following suggestions helpful in guiding your team closer to the accomplishment of their objectives.

  • Encourage them to think about: how their learning and development goals will help them be more effective at work.

  • Encourage them to: visualize how achieving their learning and development goals would improve their productivity at work.

  • Pick one or two behaviors they wish to improve and consider how they might put those skills to use at work. As an example, they could hone their skills in one-on-one sessions with you or in weekly group sessions with their coworkers.

Remember to always prioritize growth. Keep in close contact with your team and update them on a regular basis. Make sure they commit to a date by which they can tell you how they put what they learned into practice.

Being someone's support system does not have to take a lot of time or effort. Motivating an employee directly under you and showing genuine interest in their professional development can have a significant impact on their achievement.

2. Monitor & Manage Performance

The idea of development-based meeting sessions allows in one of the most crucial — and mutually satisfying — aspects of mentoring and leadership. Personal conferences one- on one mentoring. A leader should meet with each employee individually for 15 to 30 minutes at least once every two weeks.

As a leader, you should set the frequency of these sessions according to the individual's progress on the job or objective at hand. In the initial few weeks of learning a new task, you should meet frequently to provide detailed instructions, review the work completed and most of all offer encouragement. Once they have some experience under their belts, they can cut back to once or twice weekly meetings to keep the team on track.

As your team member gains confidence and competence once a week is likely sufficient and can involve mostly listening on your part. Regular meetings may no longer be necessary once the person has completed the task unless they choose to seek your assistance.

Quarterly performance reviews are improved as a result of increased meeting frequency. When leaders plan check-in sessions with their teams at regular intervals determined by each member's stage of development, there is constant opportunity for open and frank dialogue regarding performance. As a result, everybody involved is on the same page. If these sessions are productive, the quarterly performance review will be a rehash of previous discussions rather than a retrospective look at what should have been done over the course of the year. For this reason, we think that quarterly assessments are preferable to annual ones. The team member and the leader benefit from keeping tabs on the present goals and making any necessary adjustments based on how the projects are progressing.

3. Establishes The Organizational Goals with C.L.A.R.I.T.Y.

Goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) are a popular tool, and many of you have used them. People, like the times, have evolved. A new generation is entering the workforce, and with it comes a new set of priorities and expectations. There is a wide variety of tools at your disposal. SMART objectives have fallen out of favor, but there are other reasons why they may not be useful in the modern world. As useful as they have been in the past, SMART goals still have their limitations. yet there are other tried and true strategies you can turn to when you feel like you've hit a brick wall!

The CLARITY goal-setting method is still in its early stages and has yet to be thoroughly tested. However, it shows a lot of promise, and I'm always looking for a more efficient and productive way to set goals. I've included a quick video from my posts on Facebook and LinkedIn below as well as an outline to provide you with yet another avenue for success.

The C.L.A.R.I.T.Y. method:

Crystal clear – Are you clear on what you want to accomplish? Does it provide an explanation of the organization's goals that everyone can follow?

Linked – Is there a connection between this objective and a higher one? Does it relate to the overarching strategy of the organization or the department? Does it serve your long-term objectives or those of the company?

Action-oriented – Do you have a plan on how you will go about achieving the goal? What are the initiatives and action items that your team can follow in order to have success in achieving the goal? Can you start working on this goal immediately?

Realistic – Is it possible to achieve the goal, taking into account the amount of time you have available, the resources and abilities that you and your team possess, and the outcomes you can achieve?

Important – Are you and your team invested emotionally in succeeding? Does the goal energize you? What will drive you and your team though the obstacles to keep you from quitting?

Time-bound – Have you decided on a time constraint that is reasonable without being overly restrictive? If necessary, is it possible for revisions to be made within the time frame that has been allotted?

Your why – Have you considered your motivation for pursuing this goal beyond monetary gain? Is the goal a part of your organization's core values, purpose, and calling? Not something that others expect of you?

If you set your sights on an objective and then do nothing to make it a reality, you will fail. They shouldn't be treated as a checkbox in a spreadsheet. Initiating, refining, and completing a strategy with this approach is a solid first step. However, success will only be realized with time, persistence, and a lot of work. The road to tomorrow's success is paved with the decisions you make today.

It's acceptable to revise your objectives as time goes on. Don't forget: You only fail if you don't try.

4. Identifying Priorities

If someone isn't performing up to par, it might not be due to a lack of competence or interest. When employees fail to deliver as promised, one common cause is that their priorities diverge significantly from those of their manager.

This is supported by an experiment we've run repeatedly at different companies. At Harvest BLD, it's known as the "Top Ten" workout. Individual team members and their managers are tasked with compiling lists of each member's most pressing concerns.

Three key priorities for focused leaders

When their respective lists are compared, the discrepancy becomes clear. Leaders often assure employees that they will monitor and evaluate performance based on metrics like sales, customer satisfaction, and other measurable. But the things leaders talk to their people about day in and day out—the things that stick in their minds—are routine tasks.

The good news is that this activity can serve as a springboard for a fruitful conversation with each of your employees, where the two of you can work together one-on-one to determine the employee's top priorities in a way that not only ensures their success but also reassures them that you are committed to seeing them through to their goals.

Successful workplaces are built on a foundation of shared goals and unambiguous expectations.


Collaborative leadership behaviors are those employed by leaders that inspire their teams to work together more effectively by fostering an environment of trust and respect among them. Leaders with high levels of Collaborative Leadership Behavior consistently listen, facilitate problem solving, solicit feedback, explain why, and encourage. What follows are the four most important traits of collaborative leaders:

Four traits of collaborative leaders

1. Listening

Recent research in the Harvard Business Review suggests that, due to the nature of our brains, we think far more rapidly than we do when we speak. When we're listening to someone, our minds wander from the topic at hand. Therefore, we not only hear the other person's words, but also our own thoughts about what they might be saying. We usually are able to return our attention to the speaker after being distracted by our own thoughts, but there are occasions more often than not when we focus on our own ideas for too long and fail to fully comprehend what they are saying. Rather than concentrating fully on the person opposite us, we often become preoccupied with solving the problem or the need to offer advice. A very important piece of advice on listening was given to me by my mentor and I take it with me into every client coaching session: “Can you stay curious a little bit longer and rush to solutions or judgment a little bit slower?” This is referred to as "being more coach-like."

You may improve your listening abilities by observing the speaker's body language and asking follow-up questions instead of speaking up. "Effective listening" is the term for this skill. Making the other person feel heard is more important than waiting for your turn to speak when it comes to effective listening. Improving our listening skills helps us pick up on details we might have otherwise missed, allowing us to adjust our approach accordingly. Learning to listen attentively allows us to pick up on nonverbal cues, such as the speaker's expressions and gestures. Does it seem like they don't want to make eye contact with you? Is there assurance, enthusiasm, or maybe even annoyance in their voice? Be sensitive to clues that their silent behaviors provide and be aware of your own nonverbal signals.

Now, demonstrate your improved listening and comprehension skills by reflecting on the other person's message and feelings by paraphrasing and summarizing what you heard. Recognize any emotions the person is expressing and demonstrate your understanding by repeating their message back to them in a nonjudgmental manner. This shows that you not only understand what they're saying but also empathize with their feelings.

One of the most important leadership skills is listening. How would you characterize the level of your present listening skills in a professional setting, taking into consideration the context of your work?

2. Asking For Input

Why should a leader regularly ask their people for input? There are multiple reasons.

People are more invested in what you have to say when you ask for their opinion. The Gallup organization, well-known for its studies on employee engagement, has known for a long time that a major factor in why workers become disengaged is the perception that their ideas and input are being ignored. The effects of disengagement on productivity and profitability are substantial. It doesn't matter how big or small the project or change initiative is, the same idea applies: leaders may turn disinterested employees into engaged ones by simply asking for their thoughts.

Inviting others to share their thoughts initiates a two-way discussion. Traditionally, leaders were seen as those at the very top of an organization. As a result, modern leaders understand that leading is less of a top-down task and more of a collaborative effort between themselves and their subordinates. There will be less room for misunderstanding if you solicit feedback from your staff. Say you have just given someone instructions on an assignment. To solicit comments, you could say something like, "I know I've been talking for a while, but I'd like your thoughts. What am I missing?"

Asking for input stimulates people’s best thinking. These days, people often know more about their jobs than their managers do. They also have far more power and potential to contribute to the organization than leaders may realize. From the 3M Post-it Note to the Starbucks Frappuccino, stories abound about employee innovations that went on to become multimillion-dollar revenue earners.

If leaders don’t ask for input and value that input, they may be hurting their organization more than they know. Keep in mind that when Steve Wozniak was an engineer for Hewlett-Packard, he tried five times to get managers interested in his idea for a personal computer. Wozniak finally left HP, teamed up with Steve Jobs, and founded a little company named Apple. Talk about a missing some good input!

3. Acknowledging & Encouraging

Best-selling leadership author John Maxwell frequently asks his audiences, "How many of you are sick and tired of all the praising's you get at work?" We all have a good laugh because praise is not something most of us are good at giving or receiving. Our brains have been hardwired through thousands of years to look for things that aren't quite right, like trying to determine whether a stick in the path is actually a dangerous snake. Is that a bear or the wind blowing the bush? As humans, we have a built-in defense mechanism that causes us to dwell on the negative. Because of this, we are more likely to catch each other in the act of doing something wrong.

Catch people doing what is right

John has often said that if he could only use one management tool for the rest of his life, it would be this: "Catch people doing things right."

Too often, people believe they are working in a vacuum because no one notices how well they perform. Alternatively, if their manager notices, they make overly general comments like "I appreciate your efforts" or "thanks for the good job." While this is preferable to saying nothing, it does little to motivate or make the person feel valued.

It's a win-win situation when people's achievements are recognized and they're given encouragement to continue improving. Individuals will gain confidence after hearing your compliments. When an individual has a positive perception of him or herself, they are more likely to succeed, which benefits not only them but also their teams and the company as a whole.

No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others.

4. Vulnerability & Openness About Themselves & the Organization

There is a correct and incorrect way to share information about yourself in the workplace, as with many other skills. When sharing personal information, use caution. Remember that the goal of sharing and being vulnerable about yourself is to create a successful partnership. It's not about you; it's about connecting.

Maintain your focus on sharing information that will benefit the person you're leading. The information you provide should put them at ease and allow them to connect with you. Do not waste people's time by oversharing or disclosing personal information that may make them feel uneasy.

You should always consider the person you are guiding before sharing any private information. Maybe you've had an experience that gives you some perspective on the significance of a particular work that you can share with others. Perhaps you have a personal anecdote that exemplifies the value of a particular rule or practice due to the lessons you learned the hard way. If you make a mistake, don't keep it to yourself; let others benefit from your experience.

Information sharing is crucial for leaders, and one of the most important things you can do is to communicate the organization's vision. Where we are going and objectives of the company.

The best leaders know how to work together with the people they're responsible for. They see their employees more as partners than employees who work for them. Leaders who are truly effective don't merely tell their followers what to do; they also equip them with the tools and information they need to succeed.

It's easier for employees to comprehend how their efforts contribute to the bigger picture if they have a better understanding of the company as a whole. Now that they have access to the company's tools and information, they can do tasks more quickly and efficiently. Having a sense that one's work contributes to a greater good raise one's drive and enthusiasm for their career.

Quote about truth with a man climbing a ladder and mountains in the background

Sharing information openly about your company, even whether it's personal or sensitive (such future business strategies, financial data, industry challenges, or problem areas), conveys a sense of "we're all in this together." As a result of this kind of open communication, trust is fostered, and morale is raised. Additionally, it motivates employees to contribute to the company's success as though they owned a stake in it.

Leaders who share information about the company increase the amount of talented individuals striving to find solutions. How do you fare when it comes to disclosing company information to others?

Sail boat on water


Much like sailing, one of my favorite past times, you have to adjust according to the wind and water to keep your boat moving forward and staying upright. In leadership it is no different. I have found the most effective leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the needs of their team. They adjust and meet their people right where they are, thus keeping them moving forward and staying upright.

Findings from studies demonstrate that not all managers can meet the expectations of their employees. About half of all leaders (54%) always fall back on their default approach regardless of their development level, who they're working with or what they're working on, or just their lack of training.

We think most of you are in the second group since no one has ever asked you what kind of leader you naturally are. However, knowing this, the next natural question is, "How can I get better?"

Awareness is the starting point. Do you tend to lead with more assertive behaviors, or do you prefer to work in a more collaborative behavior effort? What about the rest of the people in your company? In what ways do they prefer to see their leaders behave?

What are their preferred leadership behaviors? In other words, what is natural for them? Which one do they think best reflects their true personality? Form a discussion group to talk about it, if you can! Consider what this means for the team you're leading.

How do you work with people who are new to a task versus those who are seasoned? Can you see how some of your past behaviors didn't serve you well when you worked with people who didn't match your natural style? What about the people you currently work with?

Leadership is a noble calling, especially for those who strive to excel at it. We hope this article was useful to you and your team. Please contact Harvest Business & Leadership Development for assistance in understanding your business needs, defining your leadership journey, and putting your learning experience into action.

“Leadership is not about being in charge, it's about taking care of and growing those in our charge.” – Art May

Arthur M. May AIA Assoc. President / CEO

If you would like more information, please contact


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