The Power of Affirmative Leadership

By Julia Caddick


I was interested to read a blog on LinkedIn recently entitled “The future of leadership is kindness” *.  It made me reflect on my own business practice, and whether kindness is at play in it. And my thoughts turned to affirmation.

Affirmation of the good work or practice of others is fundamental to both good management and education. It goes a long way in creating good will, a positive work environment and enabling good team members to perform better.  It’s a powerful thing, but how does it work?

I’m a voice and presentation coach.  I train people in how to use their voices effectively. I do this through Training Workshops, Masterclasses and one-to-one presentation coaching sessions. My clients range from business people needing to give presentations in the workplace, to singers preparing for an important audition or performance.

When I’m working with someone one to one, my first responsibility is to put them at ease. They’re not going to feel comfortable enough to take the risks necessary to learn new skills, otherwise. Clients come to me because they want to take their presentation skills up to another level. But first they need to know which bits of their current practice are working fine, and what needs attention. They need affirmation.

Once I have affirmed what is working well, then I can identify the areas that need attention, and introduce the skills we need to work on together. And so the training begins. If I skip the affirmation of their current good practice at the outset, not only will they be on unsure ground as to what needs to change, but I won’t have created the environment of trust and confidence for them to engage fully with the new skills I need to coach them in.

This use of affirmation is not ‘wishy washy telling people nice things to make them feel good about themselves’ – it’s about letting people see what it is they have already understood and are doing well. It’s a feedback loop. We all need this – we need affirmation of when we are getting things right. This boosts our knowledge and confidence in our abilities, our very sense of self. This in turn gives us the confidence to thrive in our work place, to enjoy our work, and to perform at our best – all outcomes that are good for the whole business. Once we know that we are getting something right, we get better at it. Affirmation gives confidence, and confidence grows competence.

Going back to my work as a presentation coach, I dread to think what would happen if I didn’t affirm my clients in what they are doing right! I’ve seen how people’s skills can diminish if their confidence in what they do is undermined. It’s worth noting that confidence can be destroyed by silence, (when no comment is ever made about good performance), as well as by inappropriate negative feedback.

Affirmation is not just kindness - it is good management practice. As my client and I work together on their new skills, I need to keep feeding back to them when they’re getting it right. Otherwise, how would they know if they are making progress? We need to create a working environment where affirmation is a constant presence – part of the ‘now’ - not just something that people hear once a year in their appraisal.

When we get this balance right between affirmation and leadership, progress can happen. As my client starts to trust what they know they can do, they begin to identify for themselves what else works well, and what needs adjustment. This feedback/affirmation loop becomes an upward spiral of consistent progress.

The best managers affirm their teams regularly without even being aware that they’re doing it.  This affirmation triggers the kind of progress that brings jubilant results for both parties. But it starts from tiny affirmations.

If kindness is indeed a characteristic of good leadership of the future, affirmation is surely its first skill to practise.

We need to create a working environment where affirmation is a constant presence – part of the ‘now’ - not just something that people hear once a year in their appraisal.

*”The future of leadership is kindness” , by Carina Parisella, posted on LinkedIn 14 Mar 2022