Stephanie (not her real name) is an affirming leader. She is someone I have known and admired for a long time. Over the years she has been a client of mine and we have also interacted through a variety of community connections.
What Makes Someone Affirming as a Leader?
Affirming leaders love to collaborate and genuinely want others to succeed. They are good listeners and know how to balance giving and receiving in a conversation. For example, Stephanie is very approachable and considerate of others. She is generous with her praise, optimistic about most things, and brings a common-sense perspective to her work.
At their best, affirming leaders are kind and supportive and create a collaborative work environment.
What Affirming Leaders Can Teach Us
Since I’m not as comfortable with this leadership approach, working with Stephanie has taught me some valuable lessons. Here are a few.
1. Be Emotionally Intelligent. Since I’m not particularly sensitive to emotions at work, this lesson is a challenge. Stephanie’s default expressions are warm and friendly. She gives people the benefit of the doubt and focuses on getting to know the people she works with. I’m told that sometimes my body language can be interpreted as intimidating so Stephanie has helped me learn how to adopt a more open and inviting posture.
2. Show Appreciation. Stephanie is especially good at recognizing both the outcomes and efforts of others. She is interested in the dreams and aspirations of those she encounters. Because I tend to need less praise, it’s harder for me to offer it. Because of Stephanie, I pay more attention to the needs and motivations of others.
3. Not Everyone Is Like Me. This seems obvious but it’s also a valuable lesson I learned from Stephanie. Like me, she has strong opinions about what should be done. Where we differ is how open she is to the ideas and creativity of others. She is more tactful with feedback and tolerant of the working styles others prefer. She has taught me how to lower my expectations and give up my need to control.
Are There Any Challenges with this Approach?
Affirming leaders, like Stephanie, tend to avoid conflict. This can present problems if one is too accommodating or always seeking consensus. It’s also easy for affirming leaders to view the world through a lens of optimism that isn’t realistic. If they aren’t careful, problems may not be addressed in order to keep the peace and that could lead to bigger issues further down the road.
Being an affirming leader will never be a natural approach for me. My interactions with Stephanie have taught me how to connect better with others, become a more effective listener, and be more generous with my praise. I can’t be as warm, engaging, and collaborative as she is but, I can initiate small changes that show others I’m making an effort.
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