Affirming leaders are friendly, approachable and nice to be around. They’re upbeat, easygoing and positive. They work to create workplaces that are harmonious and caring, where everyone is respected.
The affirming dimension of leadership
As one of eight dimensions of leadership, this one tends to be the most laid back, patient and supportive of their staff and colleagues. They often promote an informal collaborative culture.
If you act most comfortably in the affirming dimension, you’re probably good at building morale and creating a supportive environment. Acknowledging and appreciating the contributions of your team members comes naturally to you.
The affirming dimension has its potential failings, however. Their discomfort with conflict can make them hesitate to hold others accountable or give tough feedback. They can also take criticism too personally.
What we can learn from affirming leaders
You’re responsible for your people
If you want quality performance and results, you need to pay attention to the emotional variables in the workplace. Team members perform best when they feel a part of a team, not just an assembly of people assigned to a similar task. While personalities differ in how they want to be recognized, everyone wants to feel that their input and efforts were viewed and valued. A leader’s willingness to listen and project a warm exterior increases trust in the leader and the entire team. You don’t have to sugarcoat the truth, but rather pay attention to the your tone and how constructive your feedback is.
“The most genuine way to demonstrate that you care and are concerned about other people as human beings is to spend time with them. This shouldn’t be yet another business meeting; instead, plan on unstructured time …”
— Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge
- How Leaders Can Strengthen Their Organizational Culture, Stanford Social Innovation Review
- Building An Ethics-First Employee Culture Is Crucial For All Leaders, Forbes
- 5 Ways Body Language Impacts Leadership Results, Forbes
People want to work for more than a paycheck
Let people know that you value them and their contributions. But how? Some people will be satisfied with a quick personal note, others will want a bonus check or public recognition. Learning how individuals are motivated and what they are contributing will make you a better-informed leader. Your best employees/associates/team members will appreciate your curiosity; as you engage with them, they will engage more with their work. Help the people around you find meaning in their work. Does your vision, the organization’s mission and core values need to be made more relevant?
“Making a personal connection has nothing to do with style. You don’t have to be charismatic or a salesperson. I don’t care what your personality is. But you need to show up with an open mind and a positive demeanor. Be informal, and have a sense of humor.”
— Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, Execution: The discipline of getting things done
“Great leadership teams in the new economy have a deep and restless curiosity. They are curious not only about driving customer and user community value, but about clarifying and pursuing their organizations’ social value as well. They ask themselves, ‘What do we offer that the world actually needs?’”
— David Schmittlein, MIT Sloan School of Management
- 19 signs your company doesn’t care about you, Business Insider
- 4 Ways To Help Employees Find Meaning At Work, FastCompany
- Why Leaders Need To Embrace Employee Motivation, Forbes
- Motivating People Starts with Having the Right Attitude, Harvard Business Review
People act on their own priorities, not yours
Affirming leaders understand that not everyone will (or should) see things their way. It can be difficult for leaders with other styles to ask about why someone is doing something differently than they would before making a judgment. As a leader, if you have a strong feel for how things should be done and insist on your way, you might be stifling innovation and creativity. How can you provide direction and inspiration without micromanaging? How can you grow more leadership within your organization while empowering others to build their own problem-solving skills and giving them some autonomy?
“When conflicts arise, they deal with employees’ feelings as well as the technical aspects of the issue. They stay approachable.”
— Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman, The Handbook for Leaders
- How to Be an Inspiring Leader, Harvard Business Review
- Micromanaging vs. Coaching, Seattle Business
- Micromanagement vs. Empowerment: A Leader’s Role in People Management, ProjectManagement.com
- Want to Improve Performance and Engagement? Here’s Why Autonomy is Essential, Fierce
The pitfalls of affirming-only leadership
Affirming leaders often struggle with challenging others or giving tough feedback because they have an aversion to conflict. Or they take on the role of peacemaker although they may lack the assertiveness to really command the attention of people truly angry with each other. They prefer to seek consensus and can have trouble pushing people towards a commitment.
Focusing on the positive can mean putting off dealing with difficulties and demanding challenges. It is difficult for the affirming leader to invite tension into relationships by initiating major changes in the workplace. In their own lives, they may turn to a familiar and enjoyable task rather than struggle to learn a new skill or tackle what seems like an intractable problem.
In-depth analysis is not an activity the affirming leader looks forward to. Extended periods of focused attention on something other than people and activities can be a real struggle. There might be excitement once the data reveals something new, but the ambiguity and focus it takes to get there can be a hard slog.
Discover your own preferred leadership dimension
The 8 Dimensions of Leadership Map is a quick assessment to give you an idea of your own style.
Different business situations often require different styles of leadership. Mentors, coaches and self-reflection can help any type of leader stretch into each of the leadership behaviors needed by every effective leader.
Here’s an overview of lessons you can learn from each of the eight dimensions of leadership. These lessons and insights are drawn from The 8 Dimensions of Leaders: DiSC® Strategies for Becoming a Better Leader.
By Kristeen Bullwinkle
Originally published on TalentGear.com.