Actualized Leadership: The Affirmer Style and the Dramatic Culture

Actualized Leadership: The Affirmer Style and the Dramatic Culture

In the collective mind the intellectual aptitudes of the individual, and in consequence their individuality, are weakened.  The heterogeneous is swamped by the homogeneous, and the unconscious qualities obtain the upper hand.
Gustave Le Bon

In our last BLOG we examined how the “Fear of Failure” Leadership Shadow of Achievers creates and reinforces a Detached culture.  The tragic irony of this dynamic is obvious: those who have the highest need for achievement and success actually create the lowest performing group culture because of their tendency to micromanage.  In turn, this leads to a higher probability of “paradoxical intent” – experiencing that which we fear the most.  In the case of Achievers, that manifestation is failure.  Today’s entry will focus on the Affirmer style, and the “Fear of Rejection” Leadership Shadow creates a Dramatic team environment that leads to a whole other host of challenges and issues.

Before exploring the impact that Affirmers have on others, I want to review the “Actualized Performance Cycle” framework that illustrates the connection between leader style and group performance.


In order to accurately describe the dynamic of a Dramatic culture, try to imagine the exact opposite of a Detached culture; replace apathy with engagement, rudeness with politeness, and a focus on results to a focus on relationships.  At first this kind of culture might sound appealing, but it often results in the same degree of poor decision-making and group member disengagement.  The Dramatic culture is created and sustained by leaders who are primarily motivated out of the need for affiliation, Affirmers, who focus on maintaining warm, harmonious interpersonal relationships.  These leaders want and need to be accepted and approved by the group at all costs.  To this end, the group norm is one of politeness and friendliness to the extreme.  Difficult or uncomfortable discussions are avoided or tabled for “offline” conversations which rarely occur.  Although warm and personally supportive, the Dramatic culture lacks collegial candor and authenticity.  Members often self-censor to avoid breaking the group norm of politeness and agreement.

The Dramatic Culture and “The Abilene Paradox”

Because candor and conflict are avoided, group members often leave meetings feeling frustrated and exasperated with the lack of progress or action.  The most common group decision-making pitfall of the Dramatic culture is “The Abilene Paradox,” which was first identified by the late Dr. Jerry B. Harvey.  Dr. Harvey maintained that our inability to manage agreement, rather than conflict, is the single most pressing issue in organizations today.  Dr. Harvey tells the story of his family driving a roundtrip total of four hours from Coleman to Abilene, Texas, in 104-degree heat in a car with no air conditioning, to eat at the Abilene cafeteria.  He said the meal could have served as a “testimonial for antacid.”  When they returned home, tired, sweaty, and somewhat nauseous, they came to the realization that no one, not even his father-in-law who had suggested that they go to Abilene, really wanted to go.  And yet, even though they all privately agreed they wanted to stay home, they were unable to manage their agreement and headed off to Abilene.

It is within the warm, friendly, and polite Dramatic culture where we most often end up in Abilene, or points west.  And when this occurs, the Affirmer is very likely to experience exactly what he or she has tried so hard to avoid: rejection, isolation, and even separation.  Are you an Affirmer?  Are you currently “on the road to Abilene” at home or at work?  If you aren’t willing to own up to your true beliefs and feelings, and confront others with what you really think and feel, you might find yourself in the place you fear the most: alone.


  1. Josh Bigham

    Thank you for sharing. Awareness of my tendency as an affirmer to be conflict free has been essential in reminding me that I need to drive healthy debate within my own team and the teams that I support.

    • Dr Will Sparks

      Thanks for your comment Josh. It’s easy to get comfortable in a “conflict-free zone” but it almost always comes at a price.


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