Affirmation in Leadership

affirmationIn my relatively young life I have been lucky enough to have many amazing mentors, leaders, supervisors, and collaborators. They have all been different, but one common trait that the best ones have had is that they are great at giving affirmation.

This affirmation has looked different depending on the person, context, and experience. Some of the ways that I have seen and experienced it include:

  • By being verbally expressed. This is probably the easiest and most common way to show affirmation. It can be expressed in gratitude with a hearty “thank you,” or through an acknowledgment of “good job,” at a job done well. Sometimes it can be a bit longer in a conversation when you not only say thank you or good job, but you walk the person that you are affirming through what you appreciate in how they have done their work.
  • Through silent acknowledgment and gratitude. Sometimes verbally expressing emotions or gratitude can feel uncomfortable. When that happens, you can still affirm someone by recognizing their gifts perhaps through an email or by dropping off a hot chocolate (in my case), chocolate, coffee, or some other simple kind of gratitude and continued encouragement to keep up the good work.
  • Through providing a listening ear and a reassuring smile. Sometimes the best way to affirm another is to give them the space to process with you about: how things are going; what they are wondering about; and to give them the acknowledgment that they matter, are important, and you think that what they are doing is working, worth it, and going in the right direction. Another form of affirmation can come through this in mentoring, especially when you sense that someone might be lacking a little self-confidence. When you give them some time to talk, that can greatly build confidence. This seems to be especially true for mentoring and affirming Millennial leaders in my observation.
  • Through the embrace of a hug, or pat on the back. Some people are more outwardly expressive of their thanks. Others need physical signs of encouragement because that is their way of feeling appreciation. Whatever might be appropriate given the relationship, this can be a useful form of affirmation from time to time.
  • After the fact through written notes, reference letters, reviews, etc. Some of the warmest affirmation I have ever received from past supervisors has been through reference letters. It’s not usually a custom to share a reference letter with the person being discussed, but many times you can show your affirmation to them by providing them a copy. I received a couple such letters and emails last summer from past colleagues and supervisors who wrote to affirm me in my sense of call and vocation, and to “welcome me” with open arms to the formal ministry roster.

These are just some of the forms of affirmation I have received. The commonality of affirmation has helped me, and continues to inspire me to grow as a leader and in my sense of self, ministry, and vocation. If I have learned anything from this affirmation, is that it is also imperative, a gift, and a great joy to give affirmation to others as we build each other up as leaders.

How do you provide affirmation? How have you felt affirmed?

Image Credit: “You Can Do It

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