Updated: Feb 15
The Appreciative Process
The issues leaders are faced with in today’s world require strong leadership. There are some wicked problems society is faced with, and more will likely rear their heads in the future, which will require strong leaders who are equipped to address them. With inclusive leadership, where leadership is a practice in which everyone contributes, there must be a certain empathy and patience embedded in the process. People generally are doing the best they can, and those sharing this leadership experience must have that belief. Leaders need to be patient with themselves, realizing they too are doing the best they can in their leadership practices.
Through an appreciative process where the focus is on the desired outcome, leaders practice seeing the best of any situation and visualizing what is possible. In her book, Diana Whitney described how an appreciative process works: “Appreciative leaders use inquiry to engage people’s hearts and minds, to draw out and listen to their innovative ideas, and to give them confidence to trust their own intuition and take risks for a better future”. Applying an appreciative perspective to leadership practices could filter down into everything one does and every decision one makes.
"Appreciative leaders use inquiry to engage people’s hearts and minds, to draw out and listen to their innovative ideas, and to give them confidence to trust their own intuition and take risks for a better future”
To practice an appreciative perspective, the leader needs to look inward and focus on improving themselves in order to become the best leader they can be. In their book, The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner specified that “the instrument of leadership is the self, and mastery of the art of leadership comes from mastery of the self”. There are some key practices that will provide for great leadership.
Walking the walk and talking the talk is one of the behaviours often identified in what others consider good leadership. This generally refers to modelling the way and leading by example. While considering modelling the way, Kouzes and Posner offered five exemplary leadership practices as being:
· model the way,
· inspire a shared vision,
· challenge the process,
· enable others to act and
· encourage the heart.
Some of my favorite leaders speak empathically about leading from the heart. In doing so, we must tie together the hearts and minds of our employees, practice active listening and encourage everyone to contribute towards a shared experience. In a personal voice, this is explained as leading with love. It is looking at the world, our colleagues, neighbours, family, and friends always in an appreciative way.
Appreciative inquiry considers how one interacts with themselves, others, and the world around them. It not only is a practice of asking questions, but also is a point of view or a way of being. It is always looking for and doing something positive in hopes that there is positive change. Looking for the positive and imagining the best in people, situations, and organizations is a fundamental aspect of appreciative inquiry. Working collaboratively, looking for what is working well, and then finding ways to implement those same practices in the future is the essence of appreciative inquiry.
Today’s buzz words include concepts of gratitude and positivity, which are consistent with the appreciate perspective offered here. It really is being conscious of what we say, what we do before we say or do it, and ensuring that we are doing so from a place of love, from the heart. Appreciative inquiry is not only what we do for and with others, but also with ourselves.
Focusing on how simply changing one’s questions can bring about impactful change, both for individuals as well as organizations, is essential to growth and development. Further, even the act of asking a question brings about change. In one of their books, Cooperrider and Whitney offered: “Our experience suggests that the more positive the focus of the change effort, the stronger the attraction to participate and the more likely people are to get involved and stay involved”. This is an important aspect to change management, which is a fundamental component of leadership.
One of the main focuses of appreciative inquiry as a method is in how questions are asked. There is a focus on the importance of the questions asked as well as the simplicity of change by purely asking a question. Marilee Adams in her book, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life emphasized, “A world of questions is a world of possibility. Questions open our minds, connect us to each other, and share outmoded paradigms”.
To expand on this, there exists a principle created by one of the original voices of appreciative inquiry called the simultaneity principal, which purports that change happens as soon as the question is asked. Basically this means that as soon as a question is asked, change starts to happen. A seed is planted, people start considering things differently. What a wonderful world we can co-create by just asking questions.
Another relational leadership practice currently considered by many leaders is appreciative leadership, which positively concentrates on people and their relationships. Appreciative leadership occurs when leaders provide environments where improvement is encouraged daily and employees are committed to and feel a part of the success of their organizations.
Appreciative leaders concentrate on positive situations, in which they aspire to have more of, where positive change can happen. To summarize in a poetic and descriptive way, Whitney, Trosten-Blume and Rader identified:
"Appreciative leaders hold each and every person in positive regard. They look through appreciative eyes to see the best of people, no matter their age, gender, race, religion, or culture - even education or experience. They believe that everyone has positive potential - a positive core of strengths and a passionate calling to be fulfilled - and they seek to bring that forward and nurture it".
Imagine what might transpire if an appreciative perspective was practiced with inclusive leadership.
To wrap up in regards to the appreciative process, an exploration of coaching should be considered. Inclusive practice, where everyone is included to solve issues, enhance services, and collaborate would also benefit from including a coaching type of model. Coaching includes when leaders ask their team members for their thoughts on solving problems and discovering possibilities and best practices moving forward, rather than telling their people what to do and how to do it. Kouzes and Posner offered, “Exemplary leaders use questions to help people think on their own, and actively coach people on how to be at their best”. Coaching is a practice of inclusivity and draws out ideas and stories from everyone sitting around the table or who are on the team.
One Final Thought on Empowering Others and Love
During the exploration of relational leadership, another theme arising is the importance of empowering others to lead. Because organizations are complex entities, it is beneficial to encourage people and allow them to lead themselves and others. In her thesis on inclusive leadership in municipal government, Laurie-Anne Rusnak stressed, “When people feel empowered, their self-worth, confidence, competence, self-determination and passion grow”.
In additional to empowerment, love has been brought into the leadership mix. In Dare to Lead, Brene Brown reflected on this when she stated,
"From corporations, nonprofits, and public sector organizations to governments, activist groups, schools, and faith communities, we desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear".
By introducing the concept of leading with love into any relational leadership practice in any organization, a new and dynamic culture could emerge.