Category Archives: Leadership Development

Assume, Ask, or Affirm – Which Approach Works?

Many leaders have either one of three approaches to influence people to perform certain behaviors.

They either Assume, Ask, or Affirm. And based on how they use these can yield a variety of differing results from their people.

Approaches that Assume will either:

  • Assume ill intent or poor performance
  • Observe without all the facts
  • Believe once told the training is complete
  • Can be presumptuous
  • Closely associate with top-down, “do as I tell you” managing styles
  • Deter trust form your people
  • Alienate engagement and connection

Some creative ways to use Positive Assumption:

  • Assume good intent
  • Trust people want to generally do a good job
  • Know that people are willing to learn and grow
  • Believe your people want to share the vision

Asking approaches vary in these ways:

  • Asking to find fault
  • Coupling with a condescending or condemning tone
  • Impersonal if phrased incorrectly
  • Puts people on the defensive
  • Hides true motives of the question

An effective leader Asks in these ways:

  • Prefaces questions with reasons and transparency
  • Asks as a favor, not a command
  • Inquires for understanding and facts, not dirt
  • Asks to fill a need, not carry out a duty

The Affirming leadership approach has these challenges:

  • Being too nice and not talking straight
  • Leading people to not face reality of course correction
  • Can give false sense of security and lead to complacency for entire teams and organizations

It’s best to couple the Affirming approach in the following ways:

  • Trusting in the right values and vision that align with the core
  • Believing in the skills and abilities of the individual(s)
  • Confirm shared vision and goals
  • Recognize clear understanding so all parties on the same page
  • Lead others to the feeling of accomplishment during the process

While there are many camps that prefer one way or the other, it all comes down to approach and dynamics from the leader. Any style, managed poorly, can have an adverse effect. But with the right understanding of your people and how to influence up, you can use virtually any approach to a positive effect while keeping intact the mutual respect and drive for your teams.


(image: pixaby)


Keep A “To Be” List

The “To-Do” List. 

Almost all leaders keep one.

It may be a simple post-it note or a small lined pad. It may be the more elaborate Franklin Planner, Planner Pad, or Get-Things-Done (GTD) systems. For those of us techies we may even be using the Opus Domini or Wunderlist on your tablet or smartphone.

With so much to do, and so many demands, we feel these lists are essential to how we manage our day, our lives, and our careers.

But what about our reputation and character? As leaders, do we find the time to place on our list those things that will enable us to grow, lead, and be an example of great leadership in our various roles at work and home?

In other words, do you have a “To-Be” List?

In Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography he describes his little book he carried with him at all times. In it, he listed 13 virtues he wanted to develop into better character traits. He chose one and focused on that for a week, then the next week another one, and so on. He may have been the first person to truly create a “To Be” list.

Having a “To Be” list accomplishes the same purpose as does a to-do list. It shapes the things we want to do daily in order to accomplish a goal. Instead of tasks and projects, it is our leadership traits.

In his book Life’s Ultimate To Do Be List by David C. Cook, he asks that if, at times, you feel more like a human “doing” than a human being. Does that seem true for you as well? Do you desire to finish your day measured by who you were rather than what you’ve done?

We can change that today. There are numbers of ways to make this happen.

We can make a list alongside our to-do list. You can choose a weekly leadership trait and focus on it like Franklin. You can select seven and choose one each day throughout the week, similar to what Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter and Square) does. Perhaps you can do it twice daily (one trait in the morning and one in the afternoon). The method is yours to create as long as it’s effective for you to grow. Personally, I write one quick statement across the top of my daily list as reminder of who to be. Ones that I’ve used are “Be Remarkable”, “Do Right”, and “Business is People“. Makes yours unique to you.

Let’s take these next weeks to focus on our being, rather than our doing!

(image: flickr)

Getting Off to a Fast Start – Guest Post by Mark Miller

Mark Miller is an accomplished leadership author whose day job is as puts it “selling chicken.”

As Vice President of High Performance Leadership for Chick-Fil-A, Mark knows what it tskes to make and duplicate leaders throughout a large organization. he has a passion for developing and teaching, and his new book that released earlier this year, Leaders Made Here, continnues on that path to leadeship development that Mark started many years ago. We appreciate his sharing his wisdom and insight with us today.

Originally published on

Leaders face obstacles daily, and often, we may not even think much about it. Challenges are just part of what we do. But what about a new leader, what issues does he or she face? What mistakes do you see new leaders make that could be avoided?


The following issues are often contributing factors when you see a new leader have a false start…


No vision – Leadership always begins with a picture of the future. People expect their leaders to have a destination in mind. Our followers have many questions for us even if we are new… “What are we trying to accomplish? What are we trying to become? Why does it matter?” As soon as possible, begin to paint a picture of the future. A partially formed vision is better than no vision at all.


Too few questions – The majority of leaders, new and seasoned, ask too few questions. This is extremely dangerous for the new leader. He or she may make countless bad assumptions that could be avoided with some carefully crafted questions: What are the biggest opportunities around here? What’s your favorite, and least favorite, thing about working here? Etc. 


Insufficient context – The likelihood of this being a major issue for the new leader is in direct proportion to the number of questions he/she asks. What you don’t know can hurt you. Lack of context can make a leader look incompetent and out of touch. As a new leader, you are trying to build credibility and trust. You don’t have any chips to burn.


Moving too fast – or too slow – This one is tricky. Every situation is different. And, every situation demands its own pace. If you move too fast, the odds of a disaster escalate. When you move too quickly, you are at risk of missing the context and making bad decisions. The flip side – if you move too slowly, many will question your courage, competence and your leadership. Trust your instincts and remember… Progress is always preceded by change.


Trying to make everyone happy – This is a curse every leader must face and defeat. If you are a new leader, you are probably hypersensitive on this issue. You really do want people to like you – most human beings share a degree of this sentiment. However, leaders know to succumb to this desire dooms your leadership from the beginning. Your goal is not to make people angry – it is to lead with all diligence. If you work to make everyone happy, you’ll work yourself out of a job.

If you are a new leader, congratulations! Get ready for a fast start. 


What mistakes do you see new leaders make?

Mark Miller is the best-selling author of 6 books, an in-demand speaker and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here, describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.

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