A Dialogue about Leadership & Appreciative Inquiry

Article excerpt


My name is Marge Schiller. For the last 25 years, I've been a management consultant to organizations. In the last six years, most of my time has been spent looking at what is creative, innovative and life-giving in those organizations. I have been using an approach called Appreciative Inquiry, a philosophy and method for inquiring into what is working in an organization. One of the things I've discovered is that in the most creative and innovative organizations there are always a few very special leaders. They're leaders who lead through inquiry. They are the Appreciative Leaders.

One of the client systems I've worked with is Avon Mexico. We conducted an Appreciative Inquiry designed to find and highlight the best experiences in the organization of men and women working together. Avon wanted to accelerate the speed with which women moved into top management positions in the company and enhance the working relationships between the women and men of the organization. Rather than the traditional deficit model of uncovering all of the "bad" things, we focused on the exemplary models, believing that Avon would get more of what it inquired about; that is, the more the company found and highlighted the successes of women in the company and of men and women working well together, the more those kinds of successes would increase. Just over a year after the project was initiated, Avon Mexico won the Catalyst Award, an award given to the company in Mexico that has created progress and policies to make their organization a better place for women to work.

As we began our work with Avon, we were amazed at how rapidly and easily Marcia Worthing, the Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Affairs for Avon Products understood and embraced this approach to issues of gender equity. We quickly realized that Marcia Worthing is a natural appreciative leader.

What follows is a conversation that Marcia and I had about her leadership style.

The Dialogue

Marge S: Marcia, we've talked a lot about "appreciative leadership," and the role of the leader?

Marcia W: Appreciative Leadership begins with an appreciation of individuals and human beings; a belief that each person is unique and that each person has a special set of characteristics or behaviors that he or she can give to the world. By beginning to understand the uniqueness of each person, you can help bring out their very best. You have to really believe in human beings, human spirit, and the essential goodness of human beings.

Marge S: So it is a philosophy about why people behave the way they do?

Marcia W: I have a philosophy of trust. I believe and trust that people come to work every day to work hard and do the right thing, and that my job as a leader is to help them do that-to help them realize the potential that we know is there.

Marge S: That sounds wonderful. It would be very nice to be able to work in that kind of world. How did you decide that this is the way people are, and how did you decide your role as a leader is to develop and nurture peoples' special gifts?

Marcia W: Probably through just a number of different life experiences especially observing other leaders, observing what works and what doesn't work. I've done that by trying different kinds of things myself as I was developing as a leader over the years.

Marge S: Tell me about someone who you consider to be a successful leader.

Marcia W: Avon's Chief Executive Officer, Jim Preston. He totally believes in people. I report directly to him. I have to take responsibility for anything that I am not doing or accomplishing in my job, because he so believes in what I'm doing, believes in me, and believes that the work of my department is very important. It's just a wonderful feeling.

Marge S: It also sounds like you feel free to be honest with him; that you tell him about the good stuff, but also about what's not working. …