Have you ever found yourself shopping for validation rather than really leading your team? 

The Temptation of Validation:

Many of us are drawn to leadership because we have vision, ideas and strategy to share. 

In the early stages of my leadership journey, I had the fortune of inspiring others (colleagues, organizational leaders, donors) with some of my  observations and proposals for change. Each time I spoke up, enthusiastic responses increased my sense of self-worth and made me genuinely excited about the possibility of getting GREAT things done. Validation felt like wind in my sails, electricity for my motor or helium in my hot air balloon. A source of power – propelling my vision forward. 

Believing that validation was the key to accomplishing great things, I began to look for more and more opportunities to pitch ideas, speak up and share my perspective. Unknowingly, I had become a validation addict.

The Reality Check:

It was not long after I assumed an official leadership position, that I realized that passion and persuasion alone were insufficient to drive aligned action. I encountered disagreements, skepticism, and calls to slow down. Unfazed, I sought out validators who would recognize my brilliance and push me forward. However, a pivotal moment came during a conversation with my board chair that changed my perspective.

“You may be right, and it may not matter.”

During a late-night call with my board chair, I vented my frustrations about how others were holding me back despite knowing I was right. Her response, struck a chord within me. “Kate,” she said “you may be right – and it may not matter.”

I suddenly realized that being right wasn’t the ultimate goal and proving myself right was a terrible strategy for getting things done. What truly mattered were the relationships with my colleagues and our collective ability to achieve great results.

Shifting the Focus:

My board chair’s advice shifted my attention from being right to what truly mattered. I recognized that my inflexibility and obsession with validation could hinder progress and damage my relationships and my reputation.

But I think this advice has stayed with me (and has become refrain in my family and coaching) because it was so compassionate. In her wording, she allowed me space for my own feelings and beliefs – while also redirecting me to what mattered for my role and for the results I cared so much about. Without shaming me – she taught me a valuable lesson about moving from a visionary to a true leader.

Does this story resonate with your leadership journey?  

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About the Author: Kate Cockrill

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A little about me... I am a social scientist, facilitator, and professional coach. Through my business: Kate Cockrill Coaching, I support mission driven managers and directors with 1:1 career coaching, leadership coaching, team workshops, and retreat design. My clients include leaders in healthcare, education, research and social innovation.

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