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The Danger of Affirmation

May 22

One of the biggest impediments to progress in many modern organizations is caused by an unwritten social ethic that requires people to encourage, approve of and constantly affirm one another. To the naked eye, this seems like a good thing, a sort of institutional harmony. The problem is that it isn’t genuine, and more importantly, it deprives people of the kind of feedback they need to innovate and improve.

I’m not sure how or why this happened. Whatever the reason, there is such a fear in most companies, even among senior executives, of offending anyone that people are hesitant to critique or, dare I say it, criticize one another. Of course, iron sharpens iron, and pillow fights don’t shape anyone. And ironically, people who aren’t honest with one another lose respect and eventually feel betrayed, which destroys trust.

Leaders interested in creating vibrant, innovative and healthy organizations would be wise to teach their people that love—yes, love—is rooted in truth, mixed with a good amount of emotional intelligence. Withholding truth from someone, either about the validity their idea or the efficacy of their behavior, is actually a form of cruelty. And of course, it prevents an organization from growing and innovating.