Searching For The Soul of Appreciative Leading with Joep de Jong - PS111

Searching For The Soul of Appreciative Leading with Joep de Jong – PS111

Searching for the soul of leading requires that you love people. You can never be a good leader if you don't have a good follower and you can never be a good follower if you don't have a good leader. So, you really need each other.

Episode Table Of Contents

Meet Joep de Jong

Searching for the Soul - Joep de Jong
Jeop de Jong

Joep de Jong from the Netherlands shares his views on searching for the soul appreciative leading. When he's not traveling the world consulting, teaching or speaking, Joep lives on his personally designed houseboat with his partner Hannah on a canal near Spaarem Dam, west Amsterdam. He's known for turning up to gigs on his motorcycle, and he sings and dances the tango. Joep has been active in the Appreciative Inquiry community for 25 years, and most of you will know him.

My desire to speak with Joep on the topic of Appreciative Leading is because he shows up in this way. Furthermore, Joep has been on a quest, researching the soul of appreciative leadership, and to me, this is a super example of appreciative leading. It's a gift to us all. He's been capturing the experiences of those who also show up as appreciative leaders. Joep has created a beautiful body of work in the form of video portraits which he calls, 'The Soul of the Appreciative Leader.'

Purpose in Life is to Find your Gift

Searching for soul - giving the gift

Joep is particularly interested in how Appreciative Inquiry sticks in organizations and how it's applied every day such as in coaching, and leadership development, and appraisals, business processes, the financials, marketing across the entire organization. As CEO to many companies, he's embedded appreciative inquiry into his organizations. To start, I inquire into the notion of 'gift.' Joep frequently talks about the gift.

What does gift mean to you?

Joep: Well, 'gift' is so important to me, as I found that it helped me define my purpose in life. I think it was Ada Jo Mann who came up with something that resembles what I say now: the purpose in life is to find your gift for each and every one of us; but then life really gets meaning when you share that gift, when you pass it on. I guess that's what I am experiencing with people that I love and that I care about. I experienced with my parents. It's also almost an ambition:

I have to find my own gift, what it really is, and then share whatever I find with others because that gives meaning to life.

Robyn: As you've been searching for the soul of appreciative leadership are you finding your own gift and sharing it? What was the impetus to do this, to inquire into the soul of appreciative leadership?

Inspirations From the Community and Beyond

Joep: Well, that's a beautiful question. I guess what happened is that I've been using Appreciative Inquiry, as I saw it, as probably one of the tools, one of the ways of dealing with business challenges that I faced as an executive in my own organization. John Rijsman deserves credit. He asked me a couple of times before I actually got started to talk about my findings and my experiences, and so did Marge Schiller who also should get credit for this. So I started to look into what I have been doing and also in conversations with Dan Saint. I started to look at what you do, from an operational perspective, and would that be something that you then could share with others?

Joep: But what I found was that there is more to it than meets the eye, so to speak. And, I got it when I got introduced to the work of Nik Askew from Soul Biographies, I decided, wow, that is probably for me. The way to find appreciative leadership, or appreciative leading is all about finding those people who understand what this is or are searching for what it is like. Searching for the Soul

Joep: I literally look them in the eye and try to find how we can get to the core of what it is they're doing and why they're doing it. That's what got me intrigued when I heard people talk from different areas, different places and listen to them speak about what drove them. The link for me was that these people did more than a job. They did more than leading. They were more than a leader. They came to what it is to be really human to get to the core of that. I realized that I'm actually searching for the soul of the appreciative leader.

Innate or Learned?

searching for soul - baby steps on dad

I asked the perennial question of Joep about leading: it is something we're born with or can you teach it?

Joep: I've had some very interesting conversations with different people about this. Yes, I do believe that there are elements that you can learn. You can learn pretty much everything in life. If you spend enough time, every single person can learn to play the piano, learn to play the guitar or drive a motorcycle, do hang gliding, whatever. But, having said that, it doesn't make you necessarily very good at it. If you practice more, you may become good. However, the question is, if you ever will reach the level that people call either mastery or excellence or whatever for that, I think it requires, for lack of a better word at this moment, it requires talent.

Why do some people become great musicians? Because they can hear, they can play in a way that is beyond what you can learn as a skill. I think that goes partially for appreciative leading or maybe any way of leading.

Searching for the Soul – You Need to Love People

Joep: I recall that in an interview with Charles Elliot a long time ago I said that it will require that you love people. Some people find that a strange notion for a CEO to say, or for an executive or a manager to say that you need to love people. I think you need to because that's where the talent is headed, if you wish.

For 15 minutes or so Joep and I expand on a number of the topics that include strengths, particularly character strengths or virtues; and, how we are at a transition point where we live side by side with the traditional view of leading Vs. the more collaborative view of shared leading.

Joep: So wouldn't it be just simply an act of wisdom, and good sense to say, let's look at what we know and let's look ahead and accept that things may change, that things will be different and that we can no longer plan them too far out. We start to use an understanding of what works, particularly when it comes to human interaction and use that to guide our actions. Then we'll see together what happens, and something will always happen that's inevitable, and it's just going to be fine whatever happens.

What's the Principle of Wholeness About?

Joep: First of all, it's beautiful to look at the system as a whole. When you do that, you get close to concepts such as becoming an ecosystem; and ecosystems need everything to be there to be a sound and safe system for people to thrive. To live in wholeness is trying to understand what we see, but also what we can't see.

Wholeness is to understand that every component is an important element of the whole. Also, to me this links to the fact that I sometimes talk about appreciative leadership from the perspective of slowing down, and talking about the value chain of leadershi … and the somewhat mechanistic elements and the operational elements … and the soul kicks in for me as well. It's all those elements that create the sense of wholeness.

When you embrace that and you talk to people, and you value whatever is being brought to the system: whatever people say, whatever is done, what others are bringing in, and therefore it's, I would say, probably the foundation [of all Appreciative Principles].

The Challenge of Singing and Dancing

Joep: I, like any child, I enjoyed playing with whatever was there. I enjoyed drawing. I enjoyed painting, but then we get to school, and there are some very serious studies. We drive people into their heads. Everyone that goes to school in most countries in the world, even if we spend time on a broad spectrum of subjects and topics, most children are driven into their heads, and that's why we see such a dramatic loss of creativity, and a loss of this sense of wholeness.

It was Hannah, Joep's wife who encouraged him to get out of his own head, even though for years he had been successful leading business because he was very good at being in his head. Joep accepted a gift from Hannah to take up singing. It met with resistance, but as he found greater comfort getting out of his head, dancing followed, and then the Tango became a great discovery of learning. In accepting the challenge, he discovered things about himself and others.

The Gift of Dancing the Tango

searching for soul - couple tangoing

Joep: If you really want to lead well and you want to understand what leading is, you have to understand that you have to connect. The process of connecting in the Tango is the "cabeceo" which is the "invite". Before you start dancing, you first listen to the music. Once you hear or understand the music, only then you start to embrace. And, an embrace is an act of, I would say beauty, but also it's also an act in which you confirm your position. Both partners do so and only when you have reached that point, can you start to co-create from a position of equals. So they're in the dance.

We talk about the leaders and the followers. However, it becomes very evident that you can never be a good leader if you don't have a good follower and you can never be a good follower if you don't have a good leader. So you really need each other. Using that sort of insight, at least for me has been so helpful. There’s a joy in searching for the soul.

Despite some frustration, Joep persevered and continues learning the Tango. He says that once he began to understand how it works, it became something so joyful. He equates the joy with the privilege of leading others, who as a collective, value the co-creative aspects of working and living today.

And then at one stage you start to understand how it works and it becomes something that is so joyful, so joyful! If you have the opportunity to work with people, leading them to wherever you want to go as a collective and facilitate that, then to me that has always been, I would say, a privilege to do that, to do the work and to lead and to facilitate.

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