The Power of Validation

I meet a number of people in my work, spending a few days with them in a leadership development process, usually in a setting away from and much different than the office. They arrive with skills, experiences, reputations, personality quirks, and everything else, which I know nothing about. Because of the circumstances we are in, my interactions with them can be much different that the interactions they have with those with whom they work on a day to day basis. It is not as if they all have Jekyll and Hyde syndrome, but I have learned that the context of their “real world” is relevant – and important. It sheds light on the overall current story they are living, and explains why they may appear to act so differently. It is not uncommon to hear someone familiar with an individual say something like, “She seems like a different person here. I wish she were more like this back at work.”

Here is an observation I would like to offer. In the circumstances in which I work with people, they are being frequently validated by their colleagues. Everyone is learning, so mistakes are acknowledged and discussed as learning opportunities, not held up as examples to belittle or humiliate. When people takes giant steps forward or even excel, they are genuinely and unconditionally praised and recognized by their colleagues. These relationship behaviors allow everyone to be more vulnerable and trusting. And thus, these people end up finding ways to add value to the overall experience as well as personally to one another. No wonder they appear different.

Many share that they often feel as if they are working in an environment where they are only as valuable as their next accomplishment, where they are seldom acknowledged, encouraged or thanked, or where they, as individuals, are considered clearly inferior to the all-important processes and bottom lines. And they behave accordingly. Most have figured out ways to survive – and they also have begun to privately question their own self-worth more intensely. This is not the recipe for top performance.

It is part of a leader’s responsibility to create the environment that can bring out the best in people. One cannot treat others as nameless cogs in a series of endless transactions and expect them to excel. Continue to find ways to validate your people. Yes they will still blunder on occasion, but they will be more eager to own their shortcomings, and more committed to getting better. They will focus more on adding value to everyone and everything, rather than spending time pondering survival strategies. And who knows, they might even start regularly behaving more like you wished they would!

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