Practice of Appreciative Leadership

Sections of this topic

    Guest Submission by Amanda Trosten – Bloom

    Strengths Spotting

    In my last post, I offered history and some detail on the Five Core Strategies of Appreciative Leadership. Today, instead, I’ll share some of the practices of Appreciative Leadership. But first, I must make a confession. We’ve all heard it said that we teach what we need to learn. Not surprisingly, co-authorship of Appreciative Leadership has reminded me of things I know and believe – but may not consciously enact on a daily basis. It’s also brought me face to face with new frontiers in my own appreciative leadership.

    Take Illumination, as an example. I know about Illumination. I’m privileged enough to be surrounded by people who deeply acknowledge my strengths. I regularly, intuitively and clearly see other people’s strengths. But do I share what I see just as regularly, maintaining a 5-to-1 ratio of positive-to-negative comments about who people are and how they operate? Absolutely not. In fact, when I’m in the thick of things, I have an unfortunate tendency to comment only on what’s broken, what didn’t get done, and what’s still on the horizon. In our book, we describe a practice called strengths spotting that helps me address this unfortunate tendency. It’s a simple but profound process:

    1. Ask someone to tell you about something they’ve done that they feel proud of.
    2. Listen, watch their expressions, and make note of the underlying strengths that they’ve expressed or described.
    3. Share what you heard.

    Strengths spotting can occur in a casual conversation, or formally: in a job interview, performance development session, or career planning process. “By asking for and listening to stories and thereby illuminating strengths, you can easily identify what a person wants to do and is capable of doing. You can then consider if this person’s strengths are a good fit for the available job.” (Appreciative Leadership, p. 69).

    Positive Questions

    There are other examples like this for me: principles I know, but forget to turn to … practices I believe in, but forget to apply. For example, “The Wisdom of Inquiry” suggests that we ask more and tell less. I’m profoundly aware of the power of positive questions to engage. But when I really get going, there are very few people who have more answers (or are more certain in their answers) than I. On balance, my “ask-to-tell” ratio (Appreciative Leadership, p. 31) is a great deal lower than I wish it were. How has this book helped me boost it? It’s elevated my awareness, and encouraged me to plan ways and times that I will ask more questions. Speaking engagements, meetings with clients, in the face of criticism: these are all opportunities to ask more questions, rather than lead with answers.

    Conscious Decision Making

    Here’s another example. The strategy of Integrity calls us all to conscious decision-making. It suggests that every decision we make affects other people, and other choices. When I automatically say yes to too many things, or take on too many projects or responsibilities, I feel great about sharing my gifts and helping people out … but at what cost? I start “speeding” – perhaps forgetting to consider other people in the process. I sleep badly, and get grumpy. I get absent-minded – perhaps forgetting other obligations, or dropping balls that other people have to pick up. In other words, my unconscious decision to over commit regularly and negatively impacts the people around me … not just me. It hinders the greater good. “Appreciative Leadership consciously attends to the choices they make, both personally and collectively, to create a world that works for all.” (Appreciative Leadership, p. 170)

    Appreciative Development

    Why, you might ask yourself, do I share these challenges of mine? My hope is to remind myself (along with those who read this blog) that we are all on this Appreciative Leadership journey together. We’ll never fully “arrive” … instead, we’ll do the best we can a day at a time, using the best tools and resources that are available to us. The book Appreciative Leadership co-authored with Diana Whitney and Kae Rader – offers generative stories and practical tools that can help each of us walk that path a little more consistently and consciously. In so doing, it may help others do the same – and make the world kinder, better place. Lena ecunk’unpi, hecel oyate ki ninpe kte. (“We do these things so the people may live.”)

    Amanda Trosten-Bloom, Managing Director, Corporation for Positive Change, Twitter: @ATrostenBloom,

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