Dictionary.com defines validate as: "to make valid; substantiate; confirm."
In our various "selves" we are always seeking it. We hope people will recognize our talents and say things like:
"You're such a good Mom (or Dad)."
"What an incredible athlete you are!"
"How did you learn to draw like that?"
We REALLY, REALLY seek validation on social media. Those likes and hearts and shares all serve to validate us, don't they?
It's true at work, too. Everyone wants their ideas to be recognized as brilliant, or at least as solid. But when the boss fails to appreciate workers, they become demoralized, disengaged, and sometimes even disgruntled. On more than one occasion during my career I have been tasked with rebuilding a team's morale after a rather abusive manager was fired. In one particular situation, the manager was noted for micromanaging, berating staff, and making most decisions unilaterally. She was hyper-critical of her employees, from the department directors to the janitor and everyone in between. She rarely - if ever - complimented or showed appreciation to staff. She took credit for all good outcomes and blamed for all the others.
As I tried to rebuild the team, I immersed myself in the organization to observe them in action. Here's what I found:
- People were afraid to express an opinion.
- They gossiped.
- They complained anonymously.
- Staff remained embedded in their own cliques.
- They would not (could not?) make decisions on their own.
- They were afraid.
I began to schedule meetings with managers and teams to see answers to their morale problems. I asked questions - a LOT of questions. More important, though, I listened intently. One very competent and committed staff person even commented that no one had ever listened to her before.
Beyond listening, I coached. I expressed appreciation. I smiled at people in the hallways. I brought in cookies. I left encouraging notes on people’s computer screens. Yes, sometimes, I corrected, but in a positive, affirming way, recognizing that even when staff make mistakes their intent is pure. I talked about mission, and values, and quality.
It made a big difference. People began to care more about their work, about their colleagues, and about themselves. Professional demeanor improved. Staff began to express their opinions and ideas. Decision-making became more collaborative, inclusive, and yes, better. Turnover declined, too.
What caused the change? Validation.
If you do nothing else as a leader, spend time validating the experience, the wisdom, the passion, the talents of your staff and colleagues. They’ll take care of the rest.