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Harnessing the Power of Appreciative Inquiry for Personal Development

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) “refers to both a search for knowledge and a theory of intentional collective actions which are designed to help evolve the normative vision and will of a group, organization, or society as a whole” [1]. Appreciative Inquiry is an attempt to generate a collective image of a new and better future by exploring the best of what is and has been. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) follows a fundamental process that starts by observing the current "best of what is." From there, it involves collaborative efforts to envision and logically articulate "what might be," ensuring the agreement of those within the system on "what should be." This collective approach then leads to experimentation with "what can be achieved." Appreciative Inquiry (AI) can play a pivotal role in people's development by centering on their strengths, positive encounters, and aspirations. AI has the potential to empower individuals to unlock their distinctive capabilities and craft a life from their own poetry. It provides a constructive and empowering framework for personal and professional advancement.


I fully subscribe to the notion that development is about enabling people to fulfil their potential, to expand their talents and to progress through life with meaning and satisfaction. Can people be developed? Yes, but only if they want to. They are the prime instruments for their own development. For the individual, the place to begin is the inner territory. Who were you? Who are you? Where do you want to be? In this way, you gain clarity on the extent of your commitment and the personal reasons driving that commitment. You understand the requirements for achieving success, which may entail making significant sacrifices, investing substantial effort, and dedicating yourself to the pursuit of your goals [2].


Through strategic innovation and fostering a shared vision, AI empowers individuals to actualize their unique potential, leading to a more fulfilling and authentic life. It provides a positive framework for personal and professional growth. Additionally, it can aid managers in facilitating small groups to envision a shared and desired future rooted in individual development, which is then collectively realized and put into action by the entire organization [3].


The individual discovery of Self


This inscription, "Know Thyself," once graced the entrance to the Delphi oracle of Apollo, the legendary Greek deity associated with the sun, prophecy, music, medicine, and poetry. Its wisdom remains as relevant today as ever. To develop, then, you must authentically embrace yourself and craft your own path in life. "Knowing thyself" presents a formidable challenge, yet until you genuinely understand your strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and motivations, true success remains elusive, only attainable in a superficial sense [4].


To truly grasp one's commitment level, three vital aspects must be explored: personal philosophy (credo), skills and capabilities (competencies), and self-assurance (confidence). Our values provide the words, our abilities provide the actions, and our confidence fuels the will to employ those skills. This journey unfolds in eight steps.

  1. Express Your Stories: Begin your journey of self-discovery by writing and sharing your personal stories. Reflect on your experiences, thoughts, and memories through journaling. Our stories define us, and by sharing them, you may uncover hidden values and competencies.

  2. Identify Life Themes: Explore your past to find recurring themes in your life. Consider the books that influenced you as a child, the historical leaders you admire, and the elders who inspired you. Recognize the values you have learned from these influences and the significant events that have shaped you.

  3. Define Your Values: Clearly articulate your values, as they will guide your decisions and actions. Values act as personal standards and provide direction, especially in challenging situations. Clarity in your values empowers you to make independent choices and maintain consistency over time.

  4. Craft Your Vision: Envision the legacy you want to leave behind. Imagine what people should say about you at your funeral, focusing on the character traits, achievements, and impact you'd like to be remembered for. Starting with a clear destination helps you understand your current position and set the right course.

  5. Write Your Credo: Create a leadership philosophy by imagining you're taking a six-month sabbatical. Write a one-page memorandum for your team, outlining the principles, values, and beliefs that should guide their actions in your absence. This exercise helps crystallize your leadership philosophy.

  6. Assess Your Competencies: Audit your abilities to succeed in your chosen field. Identify gaps between your skills and the demands of your environment. Determine what knowledge and experiences you need to improve your competencies and become the best at what you do.

  7. Develop a Personal Plan: Take responsibility for your professional development by creating a personal strategic plan. This plan should include specific goals and activities that align with your aspirations. Don't rely solely on HR or management; drive your own growth.

  8. Evaluate Your Experiences: Conduct thorough debriefs on every project you have undertaken, regardless of its size or outcome. Reflect on your feelings, reactions, and observations during each experience. Identify recurring patterns and themes, extract general principles, and apply these lessons to future projects.

By following these eight steps, you embark on a journey of self-discovery that enables you to understand your values, competencies, and aspirations. This process not only strengthens your self-awareness but also empowers you to lead with purpose and authenticity in both your personal and professional life.


The manager helping craft a strategy


Managers can demonstrate their respect and value for others most effectively by actively engaging in outreach, attentive listening, and continuous learning. The approach entails a comprehensive examination of how development naturally unfolds within the organization, with the aim of amplifying and refining these methods for greater efficacy. This is achieved through an open-ended inquiry process to gain insights into the development dynamics within the organization and use this knowledge as the foundation for shaping the development strategy. The primary objective is to expand our understanding rather than to prematurely devise a strategy, ensuring a well-informed and effective approach moving forward.


Learn from your constituents’ stories


As managers and leaders, we must not only articulate our own philosophies, but we must also listen to others’. We must learn from them. What can we learn when we listen to someone tell a story? Consider what the story reveals about the storyteller. By paying close attention, we can glean valuable insights into their values, sense of humor, triggers of frustration, attitudes toward others, and even their sentiments about the organization. As we gain a deeper understanding of others' interests, including their concerns, desires, aspirations, and anxieties, we become better equipped to fulfill their requirements. Embracing a learning mindset also fosters greater appreciation for others. Great leaders are great learners and keep their minds open about what people can contribute to their enterprise.


Envisioning the desired future.


AI will aid small groups in envisioning a shared, desired future rooted in personal and professional development of individuals, and subsequently, for the entire organization to collaboratively actualize that vision by effectively translating intentions into belief and practice. AI is a systematic and positive approach that encourages organizations to shift their focus from problems and shortcomings to strengths and positive experiences. It achieves this by:

  1. Identification of High Points: AI starts by identifying and exploring the "high point moments" in an organization's history. These are instances when everything seemed to align perfectly, and individuals were highly engaged and motivated. Through in-depth interviews and conversations, AI uncovers the specific circumstances, behaviors, and factors that contributed to these successes.

  2. Leveraging Strengths: Once these high points are recognized, AI encourages organizations to reflect on the strengths, values, and capabilities that played a pivotal role in those moments. By understanding what worked exceptionally well, organizations can harness these strengths and replicate them in future endeavors.

  3. Positive Visioning: AI goes beyond merely analyzing the past; it actively engages participants in envisioning a future based on the high points. It prompts discussions about the organization's ideal future, inspired by the successful experiences uncovered during the inquiry. This visioning process generates a shared and positive outlook on what the organization can achieve. Introducing generative metaphors at an implicit level of awareness can help a group overcome dysfunctional conflicts and defensive routines, revitalizing their social bonds and collective motivation.

  4. Collaborative Planning: With the insights gained from AI, organizations can collaboratively plan for the future. Teams can outline strategies and initiatives that align with the positive vision and incorporate the strengths identified during the inquiry. This planning process is inherently forward-looking and action oriented.

Developing the capacity of each constituent


Development can (and does) embrace both training and education. It also embraces experience, counseling, coaching, looking, listening, and internalizing things, which help us to expand our ability to grow, mature and perform. Create coaching opportunities within the organization, actively participating as a coach when feasible. Foster a culture of responsibility by encouraging individuals to take on important roles and proactively seeking situations that inspire greater ownership. Enrich job roles to instill a sense of significance and connection to the organization's overarching mission and vision, ensuring that individuals feel valued and engaged in their work.


References


Cooperider, D., & Srivastva, S. (Eds.). (year). Appreciative Inquiry in organization life. In R. Woodman & W. Pasmore (Eds.), Research in Organizational Change and Development: Volume I (p. 159). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.


Bushe, G. (1995). Advances in Appreciative Inquiry as an Organization Development Intervention. Organization Development Journal, 13(3).


Cooperrider, D., & Barrett, F. (1990). Generative Metaphor Intervention: A New Approach for Working with Systems Divided by Conflict and Caught in Defensive Perception. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 26(2), 219-239.


Bennis, W. (1989). On becoming a leader. Addison-Wesley. pp. 40-51.

 

About the author: Mosongo Moukwa, PhD, MBA, is a senior executive and a leadership coach. His mission is to enhance leadership capabilities of executives and managers. He is the author of “Be a leader of Significance”.


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