When I attended a presentation by leadership trainer and author, Joan McArthur-Blair, the room was packed. The audience members were primarily career counselors. McArthur-Blair is the co-author (along with Jeanie Cockell) of the book, Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry: A Leadership Journey through Hope, Despair, and Forgiveness.
After McArthur-Blair’s presentation and reading the book, I feel excited to share highlights.
McArthur-Blair and Cockell have developed The Appreciative Resilience Model of Leadership. They provide a tool-kit of leadership and personal development resources. Yes, in addition to the authors’ academic soundness, they write with an intimate and vulnerable tone.
The authors weave together three main concepts; leadership, appreciative inquiry, and my favorite subject, resilience. Readers will find a blend of research, prose, stories, philosophy, strategies, and exercises. The intention is to strength leaders’ resilience to better face unpleasant demands.
The authors make it clear that the leadership journey is ongoing and ever evolving. A resilient leader demonstrates adaptability, awareness, and skills. They also prove a willingness to endure the ups and downs of challenging, and sometimes distressing, situations. They name it times of despair.
Additionally, McArthur-Blair and Cockell describe three key factors of appreciative resilience—hope, despair and forgiveness. They encourage leaders to acknowledge and manage the cycle of these states with compassion for themselves and others.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was developed by Professor David Cooperrider, the founder of The David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry. A basic and simplified definition of AI is
a positive and strength-focused approach to improve individuals’, groups’ and organizations’ functioning.”
AI uses open-ended questions to focus on what is going well. A classic AI question is “What is going well?” The questions follow an oft-repeated process of discovery, dream, design, and destiny.
Resilience is described as the ability to persevere in dealing with challenges while also adapting, growing and learning.
Hope is described as a concept that helps leaders move forward towards possibilities for an improved future.
Despair is described as a condition that clouds a leader’s ability to fully function. However, working through despair strengthens resilience.
Forgiveness is described as a process necessary to release resentment, anger, and fear while embracing the need for dialogue and change.
McArthur and Cockell Quotes
- Appreciative inquiry is all about inquiring into the best of what is—asking positive questions in order to create positive change.
- Appreciative inquiry has three components: reframing, appreciating the positive, and seeing how the future unfolds from the present.
- Hope is essential to resilience.
- Hope arises precisely within those moments when hopelessness or despair seems just as likely.
- The ability to “re-perceive” people and situations is a practice of hope.
- The simplest definition of despair is ‘the loss of hope’.
- The difference between individual despair and organizational despair is in its scope of impact on people and systems. When individual leaders are in despair, they use their strengths to weather what is going on.
- Building, practicing, and recognizing capacity in times of despair help bring to the forefront the sustaining strengths leaders have.
- Forgiveness offers a place where dialogue can begin and change can take place.
- Practicing forgiveness is very challenging because of the sheer will it takes to enact.
- Forgiveness requires that leaders appreciate in all forms: appreciating and recognizing what is; finding the positive in the situation no matter how small; and seeking to increase the best of what is.
- We invite you to build the resilience of others, to uplift them when despair visits, and to celebrate them in their journeys of hope and forgiveness.
If you put that last quote into practice, you are a leader!
The stories and examples in Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry primarily come from leadership in workplace situations. However, you can apply the principles to all of your relationships. Experiment with asking questions that kindle affirmative answers. Here are three examples you can ask at work or home.
- What helps you feel a sense of hope?
- How have you moved out of feeling despair before?
- What helped you forgive him/her?
And don’t forget the classic AI question, “What is going well?” I also like the question, “How did you contribute to your success?” What a resiliency boosting question that one is, eh?