Seven Strategies for Appreciative Leading in Challenging Times - PS 112

Seven Strategies for Appreciative Leading in Challenging Times – PS 112

Lisa Rees is a warm, generous-hearted person. She is a shining example of appreciative leading in challenging times. She shares stories about her personal growth and the ups and the downs of leading and coaching leaders in her workplace, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Well Prepared for Leading in Challenging Times

Leading in Challenging Times - Lisa Rees
Lisa Rees

About five years ago, Lisa realized her calling was leadership coaching. After many years in finance , budgeting and project management roles, she created a new role for herself where she now creates leadership development programs for the Federal Agency's Directorate.

Lisa brings a range of experience, knowledge and skill sets including Emotional Intelligence and Appreciative Inquiry as the foundation for how she works with and coaches leaders in her organization. Lisa is also a guest instructor at the Naval Postgraduate School where she co-teaches Emotional Intelligence Certification workshops and she's a lead instructor for the Vermont Federal Executive Association's Leadership Development Program. Lisa is fully immersed in the issues of working in very large government agencies and in designing ways to help those leading in challenging times along with their teams.

Success Had Little to Do with Technical Skills

As you listen to Lisa, her authenticity and openness strike you at the soul level. She talks about her on-going learnings and how doing the hard work herself has enabled her to make the changes she wants for all.

I realized that my successes in life had very little to do with my technical abilities, but had everything to do with my softer skills.

Lisa's own continuing development includes a deep dive into Emotional Intelligence (see link to her book below), Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and other human relations studies. It became increasing evident whenever she heard leaders say they want to hire “intelligent” people for their technical skills, they failed to realize that overvaluing technical skills comes at the detriment of developing those softer skills.

I cannot tell you how many times when I've tried to do workshops around Emotional Intelligence and Appreciative Inquiry that people have said, “Oh Lisa, that's that touchy feely stuff.” We don't do that here. What I realize is it's in those softer skills where the gaps in leadership are. We'd noticed that [these gaps] are in this interpersonal area of communicating, collaborating, building trust in engaging our employees; inspiring, motivating and really leveraging their strengths. All of that is done with this softer side of leadership, which is the interpersonal dynamics of relationships and trust building.

Helping Leaders Focus on What is Going Right

Lisa continues : What I notice is that as leaders, what we tend to do is focus on what is going wrong. One of the things I want to help other leaders do is focus on what's going right. So, as an example, every year we give our employees a federal employee viewpoint survey and we ask them to rate how they're feeling. It's how we gauge the health of an office. Of course, when a leader gets the results for their office, they focus on what's wrong: what are the lowest scores?

I try to help these leaders look at it as if we were doing a focus group and ask some questions about what are those things that they enjoyed or what they would like to see more of. I actually encouraged my leaders to change our focus group questions to a more appreciative nature. And the results were astounding.

That's When the Magic Happened

We realized that people were more positive about the results even though they might have rated us lower in satisfaction. Once they understood we were listening to them and they felt heard and valued and appreciated, that's when the magic happened. And that's when we started to get that dialogue and communication.

We can look for opportunities in our day to day actions and ask, how can we build AI how can we incorporate AI into everything that we do?

Newbies Be Warned!

Lisa wrote a piece in the Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner Journal that put a big smile on my face. As a newly trained AI practitioner, she saw countless opportunities to apply her new “toolset” across the organization.

Lisa: I saw many opportunities to embed AI at work, but I was alone in my enthusiasm and vision of how Appreciative Inquiry could transform the future of our organization. I realized after several months and attempts, my inability to share AI at the level that I'd hoped had nothing to do with my leaders and the organizational culture and everything to do with me. I let my appreciative voice overwhelm others and people turned away from the very thing I was trying to share it.

I was overselling it's power rather than demonstrating it in personal practice.

It took me many, many months and even maybe over a year to realize that I was approaching it the wrong way. I was way ahead of what my leaders were ready to embrace. The biggest lesson I learned was, number one is practice what you preach. It's about emotional intelligence.

Co-creating Future Leaders

Throughout the episode, Lisa continues with anecdotes of how her coaching philosophy of leading in challenging times is to help leaders realize they are not in these roles just to fix problems.

Lisa: We don't want problems to crop up and cripple our mission, but we don't want to be fixers. Instead, we want to be enablers. We want to empower others who can rise above and be our future leaders. We are there as leaders to recognize that there are challenges. We pull together all the stakeholders. We need to start to embrace others. I call it shared networks of leaders or collective leadership. As leaders, we can ask those really great big questions around topics that help focus everyone on our collective goal. We, as leaders, can ask questions that are hopeful, that help us co-create the future we envision together. We can be those people that solicit ideas and encourage collaboration and transparent communication.

Seven Strategies for Appreciative Leading

As I listen to Lisa's most inspiring message in this show, I was excited by all the ways we can all build our capacity for appreciative leading. Lisa expresses them with such passion and conviction that if you are walking as you listen to this show, you'll be moved skip a little higher.

As leaders with an appreciative, collaborative, relational perspective, here are at minimum seven ways to build such capacity:

  1. We can learn to trust by being transparent in our communication.
  2. We can create safe environments where people can be seen and heard, where they can come together to share.
  3. We can facilitate and encourage collaborations where all ideas are valued.
  4. We can celebrate small wins without having to wait for only big ones.
  5. We can leverage and acknowledge the strengths of those around us, and ourselves.
  6. We can accept the humility that we don't have all the answers.
  7. We can demonstrate the courage to invite others into discussion around the unknown.

Our conversation concludes on an extremely hopeful note. As you continue to listen, your upbeat skip will gain momentum and turn into a leap!

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