Saturday, November 13, 2010

Leadership in Business & Sustainability

Many businesses and organizations are busy focusing their attention and resources on identifying negative aspects of operations and fixing problems. Many businesses have intensive disciplinary procedures in place, but no means of appreciating employees. Appreciative Inquiry (AI), as defined by Copperrider and Whitney, is “about the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them”. This approach focuses on accentuating the positives within an organization rather than mirroring in on the broken parts. AI is effective in aiding organizations to realize their long term and inherent goals, while building a foundation of positive interactions with employees, consumers, and shareholders. Appreciative Inquiry, as opposed to problem solving, goes through the following steps: appreciating and valuing the best of ‘what is’, envisioning ‘what might be’, and dialoguing ‘what should be’ (Copperrider, p.29). The steps lead to the basic assumption that “an organization is a mystery to be embraced” rather than the problem solving technique leading to “an organization [that] is a problem to be solved.”

In most, if not all, of my workplaces, the theme has been to solve problems. Upper management, in my experience, has always had a tendency to focus on the negatives and pushed the managers to identify the problems that needed fixing: why is food cost up or check average down, for example. It seems contradictory in a setting that allows for immediate consumer feedback, but the restaurant industry focuses little time on praise. Ever since I became a manager, I recognized this within the restaurant field and told myself that I would lead differently, making sure to appreciate my employees and get to know them on a personal level. As the article Leader as Inquirer states, “problem-solving approach to inquiry creates a cycle that brings people down rather than propelling them forward.” I recognize now that the cold management styles in restaurants where I have worked have had the characteristic cycle of bringing people down, it is clear that part of the reason why was due to their problem solving atmosphere.

I have never worked for an organization that focuses on the Appreciative Inquiry approach. AI is unfamiliar ground to me, making it all the more intriguing. Using the fundamentals of AI would enhance my leadership ability. Although my leadership style includes allowing time to appreciate employees and focus on the positives within my organization, my management style is big on problem solving. In taking the extensive quiz in the book Strength Finder 2.0 for a employment leadership class, one of my top five leadership skills is “restorative”. I have a knack and a passion for finding problems and repairing them. Because I like the task of solving problems so much, I realize that I must not be focusing on the positives enough in my organization. Although being a good problem solver is an important skill, refocusing my efforts to identifying the positives and building upon them will make me a stronger leader and one that others will have more of an affinity toward, making the entire working atmosphere a warmer environment.

The AI approach can greatly benefit the view and quest for sustainability. AI uses a 4D cycle in which the elements are: discover, dream, design, and destiny. The cycle, explained by Salopek, “includes identifying problems, analyzing causes, searching for solutions, and developing an action plan” (2006). These steps will aid in identifying areas of opportunity for sustainability. In order to move forward with sustainability techniques, we cannot only focus on what is going wrong with the movement and what actions are aiding to climate change. Of course, a well-rounded background is needed to understand the problems; however to really make an impact, leaders in sustainability must look at what is going right with the sustainability movement, gear in on why certain aspects are working, and build upon them to make further positive change.

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