Smart people don’t need to be told what to do. They need this instead - The #1 tool in the leader’s toolbox.
Affirmation is a powerful thing for people. And you don’t even have to be a leader to share it — to gift it — to other people. All you need to do is take the time to believe in people and in their abilities. It can be something as basic an exercise or a new diet. It can be weight loss. It can be someone taking a new course and seeing it through to completion. It can be affirming someone taking on a new role. Do you see how this automatically places you in a leadership position even without a title? Leaders affirm others that they can do things that they may not feel capable of doing. Leaders believe in people when they don’t believe in themselves and their capabilities. Affirmation is wonderful, powerful stuff.
Steve Jobs took the time to affirm his people that they could make the impossible possible, even meeting ridiculous deadlines to ship products. Most engineers would push back onto Steve, telling him what he wanted was not possible. Certainly not in his tight timeframe. Steve would engage his Jobsian force field, his mystical way in believing in his people. He’d affirm them, “You can do this. I believe in you. It may not seem possible, but trust me: you can do this!” And off the engineer went with renewed confidence in his ability to meet Jobs’ deadlines. Thus, they almost always would meet them and do what they thought was impossible.
It isn’t the job of the leader to tell the person how to do their job. It’s the leaders job to affirm the person who’s doing the job that they can do it and do it well and within schedule. It is a transfer of confidence, a transfer of belief, of will. That’s what leadership is all about: confidence transfer into others. Getting them to believe so deeply that they come to see it for themselves. It is the leader’s job to get things done through others, not by themselves. So, they have to constantly be encouraging, cheering on, and affirming others. It is the opposite of micromanagement.
Affirmation not only works in the office, it works at home, too. Kids need encouragement and affirmation all the time. They’re sponges to what is thrown at them. They remember everything, both good and bad. They also hear everything. If you don’t think your kid is paying attention, think again. Kids are always paying attention to you even if you think they’re glued to TikTok. Kids watch parents the same way everybody watches the CEO for cues. Parents set the tone and tenor at home. The boss sets the tone and tenor at work. As kids feel their way through this at school and on the field, they’re unsure of themselves and their abilities. They’re finding their way through things. They’re in a constant state of discovery about their abilities. They’re going to start out not being very good at their activities like everyone else. They won’t be sure they want to continue. It’s the coaches and parents job to coach them through this uncertainty and doubt we all go through. And we’ll have to do it often because they won’t feel like they’re winning. If they are competitive, they’ll always want to feel like they’re winning. Kids need constant encouragement and reassurance, especially in new endeavors. They need affirmation they’re on the right path, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
A good executive coach takes the time to believe in and affirm her clients. People seek out coaching when they want to make changes in their lives but aren’t sure how to Make them stick. People also seek out coaching when they want to change a culture or to make a big change for a group of people. Like a good leader, it isn’t the coach’s job to tell the person what to do. It is the coach’s job to elicit the ideas out of the person to see what they feel would best work. Then encourage them, and ask ‘What else?’
Smart people don’t really want to be told what to do. What they want and need is someone to prompt them to generate more ideas themselves, concepts and things that are already within them that need to be uncovered. That’s the job of the good leader and coach: prompt the person to generate their own ideas that might solve the problem. This helps the person to influence and persuade themselves because if they are their ideas, this gives them skin in the game, which is what good coaching is all about. Affirmation and encouragement keep the coaching conversation going, building off of the rhythm.
You might think with affirmation being as powerful as it is, everybody would be walking around affirming everybody else. And you would be wrong. Affirmation is not common. It is uncommon, unfortunately. Most leaders miss this. Most parents even miss this. Most managers won’t take the time to do this, sadly. Most people will cite lack of time as the reason, even though that is B.S. Yet affirmation by leadership costs us nothing but time and attention. It offers reassurance and confidence transfer into people who lack the belief in their own abilities. It also offers confirmation of peoples’ transformation from where they were to where they are now. This is the essence of the hero’s journey. We all seek transformation of some sort because everybody wants to be somebody else. If we choose the journey of transformation and we make it though the struggle and conflict and emerge victorious, the guide / leader then affirms the hero, telling her that she’s changed, she’s not the same as she once was, and she’s now a better version of herself with new abilities and confidence in them. She’s positively transformed. That’s affirmation.
That’s the job of the modern manager and coach: to create the space for the other person to speak their mind, to be guided along a new path, to generate their own ideas, to see the potential in them, encourage them to unearth even more ideas, and then affirm them and their path. Then, wrap it with what the person found most helpful or useful for them in that session. Remember: it isn’t the coaches or manager’s job to tell them what to do. It is their job to encourage and elicit ideas out of them that might work for them, to build momentum with them. That’s what a great manager does: build momentum with her people.
Affirmation for modern managers and leaders costs nothing but a little time and attention. Yet it’s incredible how far this small investment can yield massive results for people and orgs. Leaders are often surprised at what their people can accomplish with the right tools and beliefs powered by encouragement and momentum.
Imagine what you can accomplish with these ideas, beliefs and confidence transfer.