Balancing The Need For Validation


To some degree, we all need some validation to feel good and perform better . As we grow as leaders, it becomes a big part of our lives to balance the need for validation of folks in our team. Too little and they may never realize full potential and too much and you will never have time for anything else. Striking the right balance is key, but real hard !

It’s one of those cases where the leader has to err on the side of more validation, not less. It’s also a multi dimensional problem which needs you to come at it from several angles

1. Is it just a pure lack of confidence ?

There are several people who can do a great job and the only ones ever in doubt of that are – ironically – themselves . If that is the case, it’s usually easy enough to fix. I just reinforce them with some version of “You got this – you no longer need to check with me on every step. You have earned the autonomy you deserve”

2. Is it incompetence ?

Sometimes it’s a job that someone is just not suitable for and no amount of help is going to solve it . Once that is clear – after training , multiple chances etc – it is time for that hard conversation on next steps .

3. Is your open door policy abused ?

I have had an open door policy for a long time and it looks like this after a few evolutions . Anyone in the company can get 15 mins of my time for a first chat. They can ask me anything at all and I will help what I can . But from then on – I need to know why I am the best person to help them if they need my time again . If they don’t convince me (or my EA if they go to her first), they don’t get that meeting .

4. Are there systemic insecurities ?

It’s very often the case that there is some history that causes people to need your validation more than you think is normal . Perhaps the people who held your job were micro managers , or the company had just laid off a bunch of people , or there is news of a market down turn . Leaders need to keep up with the environment closely to know if there is a systemic issue to be tackled heads on.

5. Are you causing the problem ?

When I am new to a role – I often dig very deep into even small issues to learn more . Long after I stop doing that, some people in my team will keep involving me on things where I have no value to add . This is on me and not them . I shouldn’t be sending mixed signals.

6. Are you balancing praise and criticism ?

Whatever the balance – first thing is to make sure is that it’s timely . To start with – If it’s praise – do it in public . If its criticism – do it in private . If all you do is praise – your team at some point will think you are not sincere . If all you do is criticize – no one will enjoy working for you . That’s the hard thing with leadership !

As I look back on my various leadership roles – There are two mistakes I have made multiple times

1. Not validating repeated good performances

There are some people that I routinely would go to for specific tasks because I know they will execute flawlessly . After they do it a few times, I tend to stop validating their good work . Bad idea – consistent performers also need validation that they are still adding value .

2. Ignoring the low maintenance folks

The needy folks always get time from you . And while the low maintenance folks are usually much appreciated by their leaders – they often don’t get the deserved validation for their good work . Also an equally bad idea obviously.

There is a quote I love which is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi that goes “the sign of a good leader is not about how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create” . Validation of their good work is a foundational aspect of creating self confident leaders

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