Do this and be (like) the most effective leader in the world

leadership and validation

People are a mess of emotions right now, with the worst likely yet to come. We face many challenges: many are sick or are caring for loved ones, working in less than ideal conditions, or facing unprecedented uncertainty.

Even if you feel fine, the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis may be affecting you. Goals, roles, and processes are changing, an ambiguity triple threat that is linked with stress, defensiveness, and a lack of motivation (Sawyer, 1992).

In these challenging times, you can give you and your team a performance and a well-being boost by properly tending to your colleagues’ emotions through validation. In fact, Jacinda Ardern, PM of New Zealand, was just lauded as the most effective leader in the world for doing exactly that.



Validation involves:

  • Finding the truth in another person’s perspective, situation or emotion
  • Verifying the facts of a situation
  • Acknowledging that a person’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors have causes and are therefore understandable
  • NOT necessarily agreeing with the person or approving of their behavior

Validation provides an important behavioral signal that rewards people for good behavior. But perhaps more importantly, if we are not validating, we risk invalidating, which is when we ignore, misunderstand, misread, trivialize, or disbelieve the views, emotions, or opinions of another person. Invalidation from others has negative impacts on well-being and productivity. Worse, when invalidation becomes routine, apart from making work life absolutely miserable, it destroys a team’s long-term effectiveness. (Fast et al. 2014).

6 Ways to Validate:

There are 6 levels of validation, and each of these is more difficult at a distance. To help you keep validating at a distance, below these are described with some tips for doing it remotely.


  1. The first level of validation is being present

That means turning on your webcam if possible, looking at the webcam, and paying attention! Nothing says “I do not care about this” than being on a video call and seeing the other person browsing the web or playing with their phone.

  1. Accurate reflection

Show that you have understood through communications and through action. When we can’t see one another, stating things that may be obvious is more important. If you do not know what your colleagues are feeling, you might want to ask. 

Example: “Just to be clear, I am writing the first page, and you are writing the second page”

  1. Reading a person’s behavior and guessing what they might be feeling

This one is especially tricky at a distance. Reading another person’s behavior means that we try to imagine what the person could be feeling, thinking or wishing for. It feels good when someone takes the time to think about our life experiences. Remember to check for accuracy rather than making assumptions when reading behavior.

  1. Relate work to what you know about the person’s past

Example: “Since you’ve been out for a month I can see how you would be feeling overwhelmed!” 

Example: “John and Sammy have been working since 5:00AM, so I think it’s time we get off the call and give them a well-deserved rest”

  1. Normalize or recognize reactions that anyone would have. 

Treat the other person’s behavior as valid. If the internet fails or the call breaks up (a near daily occurrence, in my world), acknowledge it.

  1. Being genuine 

Being genuine involves treating others as equals, not “pulling rank” or acting like a boss, nor being subordinate. Leveling with people, letting your guard down, and opening yourself up to failure are examples of being genuine.

Right now it is especially important to be aware of others emotions. Many of use will be working at a distance for the foreseeable future. In some ways, the changes are positive: Many are finding ways to strengthen old connects or make new ones, and for some the transition to working from home has been fast-forwarded. 

Working from a distance means that, in general, we are missing out on more behavioral cues than we get when we are face to face. That means there is more room for damaging misinterpretation. 

Want to become an expert in validation? Sign up to learn about our upcoming courses.


Fast NJ, Burris ER and Bartel CA (2014) Managing to stay in the dark: managerial self-efficacy, ego defensiveness, and the aversion to employee voice. Academy of Management Journal 57(4): 1013–1034.

Sawyer JE (1992) Goal and process clarity: Specification of multiple constructs of role ambiguity and a structural equation model of their antecedents and consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology 77(2): 130–142. DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.77.2.130.

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