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The Ark of Leadership: A First Sample Chapter

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Ronald Heifetz suggests five primary tasks for what we are calling the assertive leader.[iv] All five seem to relate to the metabolism of anxiety. First, the assertive leader should direct attention to the central issues of the organization (some Royal Purple). Second, he should ensure that information about the organization is gathered and tested (a bit of Golden Yellow). Third, the assertive leader should manage information and use this information to frame the central issues of the organization (some Tangy Orange). Fourth, he should help to identify and bring together, that is orchestrate, the conflicting perspectives of the organization (invitation to Rainbow). Finally, the assertive leader should pick appropriate decision-making processes with regard to addressing the central issues and conflicting perspectives of the organization (Verdant Green is invited in).

Appropriate Uses of Strengths

The assertive (red) leader is a courageous leader. If a real or potential enemy is present, the assertive leader is even more likely to be successful in recruiting support for an action-oriented, high-risk venture. She might not need much of the collaborative spirit of Rainbow if the threat is knocking on the door or massing at the gate. The assertive leader is valued for his decisiveness. The assertive leader often stands out in stark contrast to the quest for uniformity and conformity among some managers. The successful assertive leader is likely to exhibit and encourage entrepreneurial and intra-perineurial (innovative) norms in the organization.

The assertive (red) leader is particularly effective in the startup phase. His job at the beginning is one, as Heifetz notes, “[of] directing, protecting, orienting, resolving conflicts, and establishing norms … He may appear larger than life because he is indeed doing so much. At the source of the organization’s energy, he infuses people’s work with meaning. As the founding father, he is likely to be invested with charisma by those around him.”[v] The assertive leader moves ideas into action, building on the Analytic Verdant Green’s identification of distinctive advantages that are held by the organization in which he works. As an intra-primeur, the assertive leader takes risks that hold the potential of rich benefit. In cooperation with Analytic Verdant Green leadership, he learns from the mistakes that inevitably occur when taking risks. In their encouragement of entrepreneurship, assertive leaders, with the guidance of a Rainbow orientation can exhibit the skill of enablement. They encourage others to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

The effective assertive leader also embraces an appreciative perspective. They discover, honor and help to champion the ideas that are offered by other people. Combining the Ruby Red with a Royal Blue perspective, the successful Assertive leader helps to defend and protect younger and more vulnerable members of the organization. In this way, the organization can fully benefit from new and often refreshing perspectives. As Scott Page notes, this diversity of perspective enhances the quality and creativity of decisions being made.  It is in this appreciative blending of collaboration and innovation that Best Practice 2 is fully realized.[vi]

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