The following is excerpted from our new eBook, Six Questions that can Lift Your Leadership, Shape Your Strategy, and Transform Your Organization. The text is an introduction to Appreciative Inquiry, a positive approach to leadership development and organizational change. Download your free copy at www.cvdl.org/sixquestions.
“We used to be a wellspring of innovation,” said the C-suite leader as he sat at the conference table in his glass-walled office. “But we’ve lost the habit. I’ve got to get that started again.”
Over the last several years, the executive went on to explain, the team members at his manufacturing firm had focused on important tasks like opening new plants and transferring major parts of their operation from one location to a larger, better-equipped facility. They’d made these dramatic moves while maintaining the exceptional quality of their product and meeting their clients’ increasing demands. But along the way, they’d been too busy to invest in the ongoing research and development needed to keep new ideas flowing. They’d lost their spirit of innovation, and he wanted to bring it back.
How does a leader create a culture of innovation? You cannot do so by simply asking your team members to be more innovative. This executive knew that fostering innovation would require shifting the mindset of his organization. And a slow shift wasn’t going to work.
In Latin America, a pharmaceutical company came to the realization that the growth strategies that had worked in the past wouldn’t work for the future: they needed new ideas, and more involvement from consumers and government officials.
Further north, a university in Florida dusted off the strategic plan for their college of nursing and realized it was five years out of date. The field of healthcare had changed dramatically in those years, and the college knew it needed to move aggressively to create and implement a new plan. They needed the college’s faculty and staff, as well as the external health care providers with whom their students worked, on board immediately.
[su_box title=”Two Ways to Learn More about Appreciative Inquiry” style=”soft” box_color=”#95976C”]1. Download our free eBook at www.cvdl.org/sixquestions, and learn more about how you can use Appreciative Inquiry to determine your organization’s future, and unleash your leadership potential.
2. Register for our new Appreciative Leadership Certificate Series, which starts this December, and gain mastery of Appreciative Inquiry. Find more at www.cvdl.org/ai. [/su_box]
Elsewhere, the leaders of a heavy machinery manufacturing company found themselves staring at a problem: a workforce that had grown disillusioned and angry. Engagement was low, and genuine effort at solutions had proven elusive. The company’s leadership and the union-led employees needed to find new, cooperative solutions for building a better future.
In Chicago, a young leader at a global organization was tasked with identifying worldwide best practices for the marketing of a specific product. Her colleagues on other teams were willing to talk but struggled to articulate what had made them successful. The ideas she collected were superficial, so she knew she needed to change her approach.
What do these stories have in common?
Despite different geographies, industries, and roles, these leaders found the strategies they needed to move forward because they asked six simple questions.
These questions aren’t magic, but they are powerful. When adapted to meet the needs of your company or organization, they can point you in the right direction and align your team in a way that makes achieving your goals not just possible, but inevitable.
The questions help leaders find the starting place for meeting a company’s challenges. But they reveal more than just a starting place, they can also mobilize the organization in a positive way to address these challenges.
So what are these paradigm-shifting questions? In short form, they are:
- What led me here?
- What is my high point?
- What do I value?
- What is changing?
- What’s the best future I can imagine?
- What will it take to get us there?
Those questions may seem basic, but don’t underestimate what their answers will tell you. Their genius is not in the words themselves, but in the attitude with which you ask them. When well-framed, and asked with the spirit of discovery, they open the door to moments of insight you could not have achieved otherwise. When teams work through the questions together, what emerges is a shared understanding that can fast-forward them into the future they want.
These questions are based on Appreciative Inquiry, a positive approach to leadership development and organizational change. In our eBook, we explain the core principles of Appreciative Inquiry, that give these questions their transformative power. We also walk you through circumstances in which you can use the questions, showing you how to adapt them to get at the true, helpful, strategic ideas you need to make incredible progress.
At the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, we’ve found no other tool more powerful or effective than Appreciative Inquiry in shaping organizations and developing leaders. We hope you’ll take time to explore Appreciative Inquiry. More resources for doing so are below.
James D. Ludema, Michael R. Manning, and Amber A. Johnson are pioneers in the application of Appreciative Inquiry. Together they are the authors of Six Questions that can Lift Your Leadership, Shape Your Strategy, and Transform Your Organization. Jim is the Director of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, where Mike is Professor of Leadership, Strategy and Change; and Amber serves as the Chief Communications Officer.
Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry: Resources
- eBook: Six Questions that can Lift Your Leadership, Shape Your Strategy, and Transform Your Organization
- New Certificate Series in Appreciative Leadership: The three-course series includes Foundations of Appreciative Inquiry; Appreciative Leadership for Peak Performance; and Leading Appreciative Organizations. Learn more at www.cvdl.org/ai.
Looking to grow your own leadership capacity while leading your company? Learn more about our M.S. in values-driven leadership program – designed for executives.