I’ve been thinking about, and sharing with my executive coaching clients, the idea of validation. What I mean is the need of almost all of us to be told, in word or reaction, that who we are and what we contribute is relevant, valuable, and special.

People on the job interview circuit generally get more rejections than offers and most of the nos come without explanation or regret. Are there many things harder than speaking with a series of people, believing you could do the job and perform well, only to hear nothing back?

I worked many times for people who came from the “no news is good news” school of management. For poor performers this may seem like a God send; however, when you’re in a new position, tackling a particularly difficult problem or just been giving your all for way too long, some form of external affirmation is not only welcome but essential.

I’ve told a number of my executive career coaching clients about my “Oh! s**t list.” In one of my corporate experiences, I managed a group of about 600 employees. We were a new division of a large, well respected, manufacturer. My first mandate was to hire hundreds of employees, at all levels, in a very short period of time, and get the division up and running. Attracting and retaining great people was essential to our success. I was building a team from the ground up and needed to grow future leaders from within. Unlike most managers, I devoted little time to poor performers—left that work to my direct line managers. My MO was to zero in on the high potential people.

What did I do? I made a list that I privately called my Oh! s**t list. On a single piece of paper, handwritten, and placed in my private files, I had the names of the top 5%. These were the diamonds in the rough, people who no matter what the challenge seemed to make a contribution. They were the early adapters and the natural leaders; the individuals I wished I could clone. They were also the people who if I found out they were quitting, I would say, “Oh ! S**t.” I was not a happy camper when we lost good people. Talent retention was a top of the pile measurement for my executives—never lose the good ones was my mantra.

So, what did I do with my secret list?

I made a point of calling each person on it at least once a month. Keep in mind, field people were not accustom to getting a call from anyone back in the home office and if they did, it was only because something was terribly wrong. When I started making the calls, I would invariably hear terrified voices coming on the phone, “Hello Jane, this is ____, is there something wrong?” I’d reassure them, “Nothing is wrong.” “I’m calling to thank you and let you know how much I appreciate what you do, everyday, for us.” Then I’d give a specific. Sometimes I’d have to instruct my listener to breathe because they hadn’t done much since they heard the call was for them. A deep breath and it would begin to sink in—“She’s telling me I’m valuable.” Yes, I was.

Don’t get me wrong, this was not pure altruism on my part. I knew headhunters and competitors were scouting my stores on a regular basis. I wanted to get to my special people first, just in case they were being wooed.

How long did this process take? Maybe two hours a month, generally on Friday afternoons. Finding a manager’s replacement could take weeks and might not conclude with a superior candidate. It always made my weekend. I lost very few stars and people were extremely loyal to me. All I did was validate the person and his or her actions. Seemed pretty easy to me.

So why don’t leaders and managers reinforce positive behavior?

Many have an auditing mentality—always looking for the flaws and therefore focusing on the bottom 10%.

It’s hard to praise if you have never experienced it yourself. I did not come from a verbally effusive family, but I did have parents who allowed each of their children to become who they were born to be. This was very reinforcing and validating.

People are suspicious of praise, and often they should be, because much of it is not sincere. Only when trust is established can praise and validation take dimension and meaning.

Tasks take over and the big picture becomes less clear.

Leaders fail to quantify the cost of losing talent due to inattention or ignorance.

False beliefs that if you tell people they are valuable they’ll ask for more money, a promotion, or threaten to leave. Not necessarily and so what if they do?

Finally, a secret longing that they will be recognized in such way and resentment turns to a behavior. This is true regardless of experience of level.

The opportunity to validate people in our sphere is almost endless. Those who give get and those who only take never really experience the full impact of the gesture. Is there someone in your life who needs to know what you are already fully aware of? Make the call, have the conversation, get the note to them.

Coaching has a way of validating people and their actions. The mere fact that individuals explore the idea of having a coach says something about their understanding of needs and desires. As a coach I can reassure people that what they are in the midst of is common, maybe even normal. One of the ways to get validation is to seek it out. Coaching helps people create a network of positive reinforcing colleagues.

And why don’t you have a coach?

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.