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July 2014


Appreciative Leadership


by Diana Whitney, Ph.D., Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rader (McGraw-Hill, 2010)


What are the big take-aways?


Whitney and her co-authors explain that Appreciative Leadership is “the relational capacity to mobilize creative potential and turn it into positive power – to set in motion positive ripples of confidence, energy, enthusiasm, and performance – to make a positive difference in the world” (page 3), and they describe what drives it and why it works.


Why do I like it?


I believe in the potency of positive power and strengths-based leadership, and I use Appreciative Inquiry techniques with my coaching clients and in my leadership development trainings, so I liked this book.


Drawing on Appreciative Inquiry theory, as first conceived by David Cooperrider, Appreciative Leadership lays out five core strategies of a strengths-based style of leadership based on positive power.  The five strategies are: Inquiry (asking positive questions), Illumination (highlighting strengths and successes), Inclusion (described on page 88 as “consciously engaging with people to cocreate the future”), Inspiration (transcending the status quo) and Integrity (building positive and authentic relationships).


As demonstrated by the leaders of the Northeast Strengths-Based Network’s conference I recently attended at Champlain College in Vermont, the type of leadership inspired by Appreciative Inquiry principles is open, values-based, collaborative, innovative, highly effective and also a lot of fun.  Most people are at their best when they are supported and challenged, valued and leveraged for their unique talents, and drawn to new ideas by others who spark energy and creativity by expressing rigorous curiosity.  This “best self” response seemed to characterize participants’ experience at the Vermont conference.


In what situations would this be useful?


Identifying the “root causes of success,” asking positive questions, behaving with integrity and believing in the power of possibility – among other principles of Appreciative Inquiry – serve almost any leader in almost any situation at any time.


Perhaps counter-intuitively, appreciative leadership practices serve leaders and organizations as powerfully when things are going well (i.e., at times when everyone is keenly aware of exactly what is working, where the momentum is coming from, and why the organization is flourishing) as when things are difficult.  In fact, often the wisest juncture at which to roll out a major change initiative is when things are going particularly well.  As David Cooperrider pointed out in some brief comments he made at the Vermont conference (he was actually in town for something else and had kindly stopped by for the opening discussion), too often an organization will wait until it is in some kind of trouble to initiate a big change, when the most effective conditions under which to introduce change is when it is thriving.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


Appreciative Leadership places a lot of emphasis on integrity and authenticity, so resources by Bill George come to mind as pairing nicely with it, as well as resources on emotional intelligence (anything by Daniel Goleman or Richard Boyatzis, and their colleagues).  If you’re looking for a leadership workbook that focuses on strengths-based approaches, as usual I especially recommend Bill George’s Finding Your True North (previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).


For more information on Appreciative Inquiry theory itself, as well as case studies and a trove of practical tools, I highly recommend “The Appreciative Inquiry Commons” website, hosted by Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.


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