by Cathy Gassenheimer
When someone recommended the book, Appreciative Leadership: Focus on What Works to Drive Winning Performance and Build a Thriving Organization
, I was intrigued. I guessed, correctly, that its recommendations would be aligned with Jim Knight’s partnership principles
, and, when reading it, discovered lots of useful and practical ideas.
Co-authored by three writers associated with the Corporation for Positive Change, the book
, at times, seemed a bit too “touchy-feely” for me. Nonetheless, much of the material can be a valuable read to those interested in strengthening their appreciation of others, their work, and even the world in which they live.
The book suggests five core strategies that can actualize appreciative leadership. They all emerge from the idea that we want to build on strengths, not anchor ourselves to shortcomings:
is organized around these strategies, featuring a chapter on each. The chapter on Inquiry is completely aligned with the partnership principles, featuring such important suggestions as:
- “Learning comes from questioning, wondering, observing, and studying.” (p. 28)
- “Inquiry requires daily practice: to ask more and tell less, to study the root causes of success rather than the root causes of failure, and to wonder why people do what they do, rather than judge or berate them.” (p. 29)
- “Appreciative leaders ask more than they tell.” (p. 30)
Flipping negatives over to positives
One of my favorite ideas in the book is called “The Flip.” Put simply, it highlights the importance of learning how to turn the discussion about negative issues into positive questions. It involves a three-part process:
- “When presented with a complaint or problem, listen carefully. Repeat what was said to be sure both that you understand it and that the other person feels heard.
- Ask, ‘What is it that you really want? I understand that you are not happy with the way things are, but tell me what is it that you want instead?’
- Reflect on what you heard—The Flip. Describe what the person really wants in a two-to-three word phrase—an affirmative topic.” (p. 37)
A specific example of “The Flip” related to education includes addressing someone’s complaint about low test scores. The authors suggest asking questions about successful learning strategies rather than berating the students or teachers.
The authors also offer a useful table about how to make the who, what, where, when, and how questions work for you in positive ways (p. 46).
Hopefully, these snippets have whetted your appetite. And there are many other jewels included in the book, including Appreciative Coaching, 5 Criteria for Compelling Visions, and 7 Practices of Being True to Oneself, to name only a few. You might also explore and learn more about appreciative inquiry generally. This Johns Hopkins School of Education article
is a helpful resource.
A story about being positive and proactive
is full of stories that help bring a concept to life. I’ll conclude this review with one of my favorite stories from the book, which I have named: Turning the Table With Good Results.
The issue involved enlisted men on a military base. Military protocol requires that when on base, enlisted men are required to salute naval officers. A base commander noticed while walking through the base that not all enlisted personnel were following the saluting protocol.
The commander consulted his junior officers and identified three possible options:
- They could publicly ‘dress down’ the enlisted personnel on the spot every time it happened;
- They could ignore the breach of protocol; or
- The officers could initiate the salute.
Their choice was the third option. What do you guess happened? “The next day, the officers made a point to salute approaching enlisted personnel on the walkway. They received surprised looks and instant return salutes. In a matter of days, protocol was restored.” (p. 182)
This story was a powerful reminder to me that being proactive and positive can often solve problems, and make everyone’s life easier. So, I’m adding the use of appreciative leadership to my toolbox, and I’m expecting positive results!
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DeAnna Miller is an instructional coach in the Enterprise City (AL) Schools and a member of the Alabama Instructional Partners Network. Here, she reviews a valuable book for coaches and principals at the junior and senior high school level. by DeAnna Miller
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