The saints and the noble souls knew it. Our great ancestors knew it. All successful great leaders knew it. Now, it is time for us –corporate managers –to know!
Imagine this scenario: You are a successful manager in a modern business. But, are you an Appreciative Inquiry coach? As an exceptional manager managing even large teams, you deal with a plethora of problems; often, you –as a manager – are expected to provide both solutions and results. You are perceived as a provider, a role model, and even a champion. At times, you are also expected to be able to drum-up something akin to a panacea for all the business’ troubles.
So, what is the reality? In the ever-volatile theatre of the business world, the reality is that you are as new to the challenges as they are to your organisation. Most of the time you face these challenges like a gladiator – taking them by the horns. Relatively isolated, you make your decisions, and progress based on the rationale and best interests of the organisation, clear only to you. You see your team and yourself as a guerrilla unit forming a phalanx to take on the challenge, and you use every single resource to problem-solve, set a direction and align to the organisational goals and desired business solutions (that you perceive). In many ways, you’re in survival mode. You leverage all your team members’ fullest potential…draining every last drop of plasma and platelets… using your time-tested methodology of critical thinking and questioning.
There is nothing wrong with such an approach, as long as it’s understood that the outcome can be determined by various factors. The real challenges are usually intrinsic to the technique. These can be in the form of burnt-out and de-motivated team members, singed in the course of the emotional transactions.
Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a model that seeks to engage stakeholders in self-determined change. AI revolutionized the field of organization development and was a precursor to the rise of positive organization studies and the strengths based movement in American management. Its authors posited that the overuse of "problem solving" hampered any kind of social improvement, and what was needed were new methods of inquiry that would help generate new ideas and models for how to organize. AI was developed at Case Western Reserve University's department of organizational behavior. [Bushe, G.R. (2013), Cooperrider, D.L. & Srivastva, S. (1987)].
You risk being labelled an unrealistic task-master, irrespective of the reasonable standards and expectations that you have.
So, one thinks, if all this is known to the corporate boffins, how does this situation repeat itself every single time and for almost every new assignment across industries? What are the possible causes and importantly how do we deal with them?
Most of the time such side-effects are a direct result of your transactions with your team members and chiefly during your feedback in appraisals, performance improvement and expectation!
Some interesting data published by a global governing HR body observes that on an average there are 13 criticisms during an appraisal and in general, 33% of the time they have a negative impact on performance! You might say, as angst-ridden as these data points might sound, the fact of the matter is your subordinates need to be told what they need to be told. Especially when we are dealing with tight a deadline – which in a corporate world is every time – you expect them to have the maturity to accept your lack of finesse and get-on-with-the-job!
Coaching to the Rescue
This is where your coaching – the AI way – comes in very handy. AI considers the ‘best in people, their organisation and the world around them’. Its 4 stages or the 4Ds: Discovery – Conversations about possibilities; Dreaming – Ideas and stories for the future and what might be; Designing – Asserting the ambitions into plans for the future; Delivery – action planning around specific activities, tasks and processes, isolate problems, failures and other negative factors (which it abhors), in favour ‘success’ (which it espouses)!
While AI can be employed by anyone who is managing a team, the technique through which we employ and deliver this concept should be coaching!
Appreciate, because it appreciates!
Coaching is a widespread aspect of HR and management practice. Its power to change ‘mindsets’ and to propel action is widely appreciated in organisations. There are many coaching techniques that can be employed; one such is GROW – Goal, Reality, Options available and Way forward. A reflection from our side would help us to realise we can employ this kind of coaching technique in each of the D stages of AI. The only key here is, we employ Appreciation all the way through. It does not necessarily mean we will only talk about what works; rather how we can make it work by leveraging strengths.
All through the ages, the wise men, the noble souls realised and understood the power of Coaching – the appreciative way. We have examples all through ranging from mythology to successful leaders and our great ancestors and our very own parents taking this route.
Be appreciative and thankful
In more down-to-earth terms, business guru Robin Sharma states, “Identify your strengths and be the best in what you do”.
Many organisations employ such techniques and evolve the tools to support the managers in their coaching efforts. Gallup’s Strength Finders is a good tool that managers can employ to identify the strengths of their team members which, once known, can be used to bring out the best in them using coaching techniques. There are various bodies which can train you in your coaching skills including the International Coaching Federation (ICF), and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. Such governing bodies of coaching have professional certification programs to build your key coaching skills including listening, appreciating and drawing the best of people to make them realise their fullest potential. Remember, coaching can be used to improve poor performance but coaching – the appreciative way –can help in building good performance.
At a time when corporate managers are faced with stiff challenges with ever- growing pressure from competition, globalization and complexity involved in managing and leading an increasingly-diversified knowledge based workforce, it is up to us to realise that an opportunity presents itself to everyone in everything. If we fail to appreciate people around us for what they are, then we still may be successful managers but could fail terribly as leaders. Every time we interact with our team members it is an opportunity for us to coach them the appreciative way!
“…to identify the strengths of their team members which, once known, can be used to bring out the best in them using coaching techniques…”
So let us take the words of the wise men – Appreciate your way to becoming a successful leader in the corporate world!