Appreciative Inquiry

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Lighting The Spark

At a recent Women Presidents’ Organization conference, 17-year-old CEO, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author Maya Penn keynoted. She started her first business at 8 years old. She’s both impressive and inspiring, and she shared her journey and her wisdom.

In her talk, she called out a few things that have worked for her in her short but accomplished life so far. Among them:

  • Be positive so you can do your best work
  • Celebrate your failures and wins on an ongoing basis
  • Light your spark so it shows up in all you do

These are important areas on which to focus for all leaders, but coming from this young girl, especially surprising!

After Maya had finished speaking, an attendee approached the floor mic with a question for a book she is writing. She asked Maya “What extinguishes your spark?”

The audience was on a high. We had started thinking about how to follow her lead, and how we could look forward in our own work. And then, the question. I believe, this was the wrong question!

Map Making

Our brains connect events to make sense of our experiences all day long. They’re busy making maps and connections, and putting things together.

Exploring and asking about what we want (so that our brains focus there, and help us map our way) is much more effective than asking about what we don’t want. Why?

Because our realities and actions are shaped by the questions we ask.

So, when we ask questions about what we want to move toward (How do I best “light my spark”? How can I fully use my strengths in this situation? What outcome would have us both win in this conversation? How can I support and build more capacity in this person? How do I build a culture that the best workers are drawn to? How do I invite my people into the conversation? How can my employees contribute? What was my best experience when innovating on a team, and how can I replicate it? How can I challenge myself beyond my comfort zone today?), our brains are already starting to build the map to get there. They are filling in the blanks for what doesn’t work.

We begin to get somewhere in this question from a noted performance coach and psychologist: “When our questions focus on shortcomings, can we truly expect great things to be forthcoming?”

Flip The Script

However, the better question flips this around to: How can we ask questions that help recall our peak experiences, so we can amplify them? How can we ask employees questions that build their capacity and inspire them to be their best?

So, if we turn the earlier question to Maya around to: “what most lights your spark?” we bring forth an inspired journey that our brains then begin to map.

Strengths focused. Assets focused. Solutions focused. Amplifying peak moments.

Our Daily Spark

What questions are we asking during our meetings with “difficult employees”, during feedback, in strategic planning work, and in every day conversations?

Learning to ask these appreciative, spark-based questions seems simple, but takes a lot of practice. Finding a partner with whom to practice will help you make quicker headway. (Think; a trusted colleague or even your family).

The inner and outer dialogue and enacted changes that come from these simple, positively-focused questions can positively power an entire organization toward new ideas, engaged employees and provide greater returns.

What new questions will you begin to ask, in order to light your own spark and that of your people, and your results?

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Curiosity and the Effective Leader

Some of you may remember the phrase from the National Enquirer – “enquiring minds want to know.”  However, most of you likely have not heard of positive change approach Appreciative Inquiry (AI). It starts with curiosity, as did the Enquirer, but then dramatically diverges. Curiosity, in the case of AI, did not kill the cat, but instead, increased its knowledge and propelled it to heights.

The Challenge

Meeting with “Tom” over a period of months in a coaching engagement revealed difficulty with an employee seemed to be representative of Gallup’s actively disengaged research numbers on employees — not willing to give an extra minute to work, not interested in the work, and not a “team player.”  In discussing the power of inquiry, “Tom” courageously decided to try the Appreciative approach with what he considered to be this difficult employee. Read more

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Pummeling Our Opponents

In the midst of election commercials and phone calls, pummeling your opponent is common fare. We regularly see ads lacking restraint, telling us who’s right and who’s wrong.

But how does this approach work for leaders, who are not simply focused on a single race, but rather, on creating wins that last long after “the battle” is over.

Inquiry and Restraint

When we’re called upon to take action in the midst of business challenges such as “employees not doing their jobs”, “colleagues overstepping their bounds” or “stakeholders who just don’t see our side of a disagreement”, we can model the way and create a win for all with a mix of inquiry and restraint.

Choosing the best approach will have lasting impact.

What Doesn’t Work Read more

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Finding The Positive Core

Ah, Thanksgiving! A time when many people in the United States take a moment to reflect on what they are most thankful for.

As we consider what we are most thankful for in the world around us, it makes sense to extend this discovery process to the people we lead and work with on a daily basis.

When we find employees who do not exhibit or behave with a spirit of thanksgiving, it’s our job to help them find their own best selves, or bring back their spark.

I’ll suggest three strategies to help you do this:

  1. Consider why your employees are at your organization. It’s rarely just because it’s the only job that can be found, or that yours is the only place that will pay them. Find out why they chose your organization. Read more
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Paradox of the Invisible Man

Not to go all “invisible man” on you, but a recent Appreciative Inquiry engagement with a client identified an opportunity for them to focus on transparency. 

The group I was working with had not been intentionally “un-transparent,” but creating the vision of what they wanted immediately took them down this path.

Words Create Worlds (and Action!)

By the end of our engagement, the team had identified and prioritized numerous actions – built upon the decision to put an intentional focus on being transparent.  Read more