Three Things That Leaders Don’t Do and How They Hurt, Part 4

In Part 1 of this post series, I wrote about my research into leadership mistakes and, in particular, the three important things leaders tend not to do.

1. We don’t really listen.
2. We don’t ask for feedback.
3. We don’t affirm with connection.

In Part 2, I explored the first with details on developing leadership listening.

In Part 3 I addressed some elements of effective feedback.

Finally, with this post I’ll unpack the third mistake to try to provide more help for church lay leaders, pastors, ministers, Sunday School teachers and small group leaders as we develop our skills.

So let’s take a look at affirmation with connection.


While its true that affirmation is a subset of feedback, it demands its own attention because it is likely the most important kind of feedback. And it’s not that, as leaders, we tend to avoid affirmation, since it is the easiest kind of feedback to give. (There’s very little potential backlash, conflict or confrontation that might result when we tell someone what a great job they did. ) Both leaders and followers agree in study after study that affirmation, encouragement and praise should be frequent.

But those studies also confirm that it must be more than that.

In order for affirmation truly to encourage the heart and build performance it must be connected. And it must be connected in two ways.

First, it must be connected to a specific behavior. “Great job on your teaching” is disconnected affirmation. “The way you incorporated those two illustrations in support of the Ezekiel text really established relevance for the congregation” establishes a link to a specific behavior. “Thanks for handling that budget issue” is disconnected affirmation. “Being able to show the bank our true revenue growth was masterfully done” makes certain that the person knows exactly what the affirmed behavior was.

Second, affirmation must be connected to a specific bigger picture issue, whether that bigger issue be mission, vision, values, broad goals, relationships, etc. “You’re probably the best youth group leader we’ve ever had” is disconnected affirmation. “The way you insist on not letting sound doctrine get lost in your teaching the kids is a perfect example of our commitment both to growth and discipleship” connects the behavior to a bigger picture issue. “Love the idea of the fake ATM in the lobby” is disconnected affirmation. “Your creativity and innovation – like the fake ATM in the lobby – was absolutely critical to us reaching our 2014 fundraising goals” connects the behavior to an important bigger idea.

Affirming with connection takes work and attention. That might be one reason it’s so difficult for us to accomplish. It means our attention must always be on the purpose of God for those we lead, those interpersonal relationships, and mission/vision.

When praise and affirmation is both frequent and connected, it encourages the hearts of others – the most important objective for affirmation – and helps build performance for the future.

Feedback Resources

Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well



  1. […] the past couple of weeks, I wrote a blog series on three mistakes leaders make. It was based on research on leader behaviors and followers’ […]