I believe Affirmative Leadership is a preferred method for developing people, improving team relationships, and creating an atmosphere of continuous improvement in the work environment.
What is Affirmative Leadership?
Affirmative Leadership is first looking for what is working and is successful with people, processes and infrastructure. I believe we find what we look for. If we first look for the successes and the positives, as a leader we then have a foundation to build upon. If our first move is to spotlight what is broken, and then immediately announce how we plan to fix it, we are not practicing wise leadership.
Why is it so important to look for the positive first?
This allows the leader to recognize and even - dare I suggest - thank people for the good work that is being done. This becomes the positive foundation for growth and improvement. From there the leader can move into areas of change, transformation or even elimination.
If people clearly see what the leader sees in terms of positive behaviors and outcomes, they feel validated, appreciated and less judged. It is much easier to build upon something that a person is either hardwired to do or has developed as a skill than it is to eliminate or minimize negative traits.
I am naturally a non-detail oriented individual. I have participated in multiple types of assessments and consistently they indicate this is how I am hardwired. Close is good enough in horseshoes, hand grenades and a lot of my world.
Unfortunately, I cannot think of any job or position that I have held where this trait is celebrated by my managers or co-workers. Over time I have learned to put in place many tools that help me to function well in the world of details. Many years ago, in HR administration, I was the sole controller of payroll for a staffing agency where no two weeks of payroll were remotely the same as the week before. We billed many, many thousands of hours of work in a week with over 1,000 employees where pay rates, hours and clients were constantly changing.
I learned how important details are in this job in very personal ways. I sat across the table from a person who did not receive a correct pay check because of an error – my error, the employer’s error or even the employee’s error. The source of the error really made no difference. I can still conjure the eyes of the person when they discovered critical income was not readily available to them. Then there was the client who had to be called and my work that had to be corrected. Those detail errors hurt.
Learning through pain hurts. I know this to be true. Many times in many different circumstances, I have felt like Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, standing in the middle of a field declaring passionately against a sunset of brilliant oranges and golds, “As God is my witness...I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again… As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.”
Those types of learning experience come at us, sometimes often and in some of the most heart and soul wrenching ways. This is the way of the world. This is life and learning through pain comes in abundance to everyone all of the time.
Affirmative leaders recognize that just because this is an unavoidable truth, no one should choose pain and negativity as a tool of leadership. Yes, great leaders learn through painful situations. Yes, great leaders recognize that pain can be a profound change tool. And, yes, great leaders (affirmative leaders) NEVER choose this tool, ever.
People in leadership roles who readily or carelessly adopt a scorch and burn tactic regardless of how hard and hurtful the process is or how great they believe the end result will be, are part of a small sadistic subset of humanity that should not be given or allowed to continue in a leadership role.
Practice affirmative leadership and start any change process by asking. “What is working here? What do my people do really well? What do our customers or clients appreciate about us?” Then ask why? Why? And why again? Then move to, how do we increase this, transfer this, use this as a foundation to build new platforms.
As a leader, we cannot stop the painful and dreaded “As God is my witness…” moments of life from happening but we can make a conscious and deliberate choice not to create those situations deliberately. Instead, find what is good and build upon what is successful.
Affirmative leaders are in the game for the long haul. People will seek out affirmative leaders and follow them to all levels of success.