We again continue the discussion of leadership and the Five Factor Model (FFM), which can be remembered with the mnemonic OCEAN. Remember, skillful leaders have been shown to be high in Openness (O), Conscientiousness (C), and Extraversion (E), and low in Agreeableness (A), and Neuroticism (N). Today we will discuss agreeableness. However, since this a trait that skilled leaders have been shown to be low in, I have taken the liberty to title this post “assertiveness” which can be viewed as the opposite of agreeableness…and it still begins with an “A.”

The fourth personality trait of the FFM is agreeableness: This refers to a person’s tendency to be cooperative, agreeable, and helpful. A person high in A tends to focus on getting along and is willing to compromise for social harmony. A person low in A tends to be skeptical and competitive, focusing on their self-interest. It might sound counterintuitive that leaders tend to be low in agreeableness yet think about it. Questioning authority, thinking outside of the box, and ruffling feathers can lead to creativity and new ideas. This can not happen if we only want to please others. Of course, that does not mean you can or should behave like a total a-hole. Here are some tips to be more assertive.

1. Do not apologize. Of course if you bump into someone, go ahead and apologize. But too often we apologize in situations where there is no reason to be sorry. We, and unfortunately more often women, apologize to avoid conflict or because we do not feel confident in our assertions. Ask questions and challenge ideas and others in a confident way without beginning with “I’m sorry.”

2. Stop phrasing statements as questions. This is one that women are more apt to do as well. And again, it stems from the same reasons as apologizing. Monitor your tone of voice and make certain you phrase a statement as a statement.

3. Feel confident. And even if you do not, fake it. Realize that your thoughts, feelings, and ideas are valid and valued because they are yours and you are important. The situation might not go your way. You may fail or feel embarrassed yet it will not be the end of the world. You will never succeed without trying.

4. Accept that conflict is unavoidable. Yes, conflict will happen and not everyone will like you. Strive to be okay with that. You will have different ideas from others and differences lead to conflict. The conflict per se is not the problem, it is how you handle the conflict that may lead to a problem.

5. Express what you need. Speak up. State your needs and desires. Again too often women are less likely to do this for fear of being a burden or imposing on others. Yet others can not read your mind. If you express yourself, you might just find that others are more than happy to help out or to know exactly what your expectations are.

Click here for part one on openness, here for part two on conscientiousness, and here for part three on extraversion.

Stay tuned for next week, our final chapter, when neuroticism is discussed.