The Power of an Assertive Mindset

I’m a perfectionist by default and have been wired that way for as long as I can remember.  My interests in math and science only strengthened that wiring.  Fortunately, I’ve had experiences that taught me the world typically doesn’t follow predictable mathematical formulas.  We will never have all the information we want in a timely manner to make perfect decisions. 

This is why we need to adopt an assertive mindset and play more offense than defense.  Project managers and project team members sometimes get trapped in analysis paralysis.  It takes training and experience to learn how to effectively move forward assertively.

Most companies have procedures or a playbook to follow when starting new projects.  I value having these tools in my tool belt but I don’t let them restrict my thinking or actions.  Flexibility is key.  If there is something I can do now that will save significant time and effort down the road then I’m going to make the activity a priority.

Like most of you, I estimate task durations and ask team members to do the same.  If an estimate seems excessive, I ask probing questions to learn how the estimated was calculated.  Maybe the person assigned the task doesn’t have the right training or tools to perform the task sooner.  An assertive mindset would figure out a way to help the team member get what they need to reduce the time versus accepting the status quo.

I’ve observed project teams talk about the same task week after week for several weeks with little progress.  We occasionally get stuck accepting what others tell us.  For instance, some foreign suppliers don’t respond to emails in a timely manner.  An assertive approach would be to schedule a conference call to get the answers you need or fly to the supplier to meet them in person.  Nothing beats face to face communication to level set or resolve conflicts.  If a supplier is serious about doing business with you, they will respond and support your project.  Poor communication should be a red flag for how difficult they will be to work with in the future.  It may be worth your time and energy to find alternate suppliers. 

People who play sports understand assertiveness and aggressiveness. For instance, the surfer below doesn’t have the luxury to hesitant or ponder. Once the surfer commits to the wave, he must focus intently and forge ahead to prevent the wave from crushing him.

Photo by Pixabay on

Here are some tips on how to apply an assertive mindset:

  1. Be decisive with everyday activities.  When a friend asks you to suggest where to go to lunch, be decisive and recommend a restaurant versus saying, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care where we eat.”  If the restaurant experience is a bad one, at least you know not to go there again.  The downside is minimal.
  2. Follow the Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast methodology. 
  3. When evaluating options, brainstorm potential negative outcomes or perform a formal risk analysis and develop contingencies.
  4. Don’t focus on failure and encourage failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.  Although, don’t tolerate repeating the same mistakes or carelessness.  The goal is to encourage creativity and boldness, not laziness or sloppy thinking.
  5. Use the OODA loop methodology to propel your project forward and to stay ahead of your competition.  OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act and was created by United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd.  This methodology helped pilots gain an advantage during dog fights by completing the OODA loop faster than the enemy. 

The assertive mindset leads to a culture that values a fast pace or tempo.  The Marines teach the value of a high operational tempo to take advantage of any battlefield momentum.  Marines don’t want to give an adversary time to recover or gain reinforcements.  In physics, momentum is a body’s mass multiplied by its velocity.  The larger the momentum of an object, the bigger the impact when it hits an obstruction.  Push your team to have the largest impact.  Use an assertive mindset as the default mode of operation to take advantage of opportunities and maximize results.

For further reading, I suggest reading Principle 8 from The Way of the Seal by Mark Divine and Allyson Edelhertz Machate.

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