As I reflect on the numerous successes of past positive change programs using Appreciative Inquiry, one element I see is the courage of the leaders who chose to use this approach.

For the newcomer to Appreciative Inquiry, it is a very different approach.  Not only is it different, it is also hard to fully understand without having gone through an experience with it.  It may seem to be “too positive” (if there is such a thing) and too touchy feely.  It doesn’t focus on what’s wrong – “how can it possibly solve our problems”.  It is precisely because it is different, it is relational, and it is all about surfacing the collective wisdom of people who you are expecting to bring about change, that it is successful.  Traditional change management programs are infamous for not achieving the desired outcomes.

When change is initiated top down, it frequently results in a fear response in just those people who are needed to collaborate to bring about the desired outcomes.  We know that when fear is prevalent it is impossible for people to bond together.  Additionally, the inspiration, the teamwork , the unity of purpose, the innovation necessary to achieve the results desired is impossible.   It is just those characteristics that are imperative to achieve the desired results and sustain the outcomes.  We talk about how important employee engagement is.   The level of employee engagement that results from appreciative inquiry processes is unmatched.

When a leader has the courage to take the risk to do something different, to trust their people, to believe in the power of inspiration, they will be richly rewarded with outcomes that they would never believe possible before.  Frequently the successes are so dramatic that the leader becomes known as an innovator in their organization. They differentiate themselves from other more traditional leaders.  They see the power of shared leadership.  They have fierce followers.

Tenny Poole is Co-Principal of Corporation for Positive Change and Principal of West Coast Center for Positive Change in Orange County, CA.