by Charlotte Crisp
In 2005, Gary Chapman wrote the book The Five Love Languages in an attempt to help people understand that what makes one person feel loved does not necessarily make another person feel loved. As this book grew exponentially in popularity, Chapman started to investigate how these five love languages manifested in the organisation. This sparked the publication of The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Chapman and White (2011). This book was aimed at assisting managers and leaders to understand the value of appreciation in creating full team engagement, as well as a competitive advantage.
In understanding leadership, science has shown us that the positive and relational dialogue between staff and their leaders is imperative for engagement and the construction of knowledge systems.
If successful, this relational dialogue enhances the system’s capacity to accomplish complex tasks and the relational capacity has been shown to correlate highly with organisational and personal success. Thus, the focus on the nature and structure of relationships that identify potential, create value, and strengthen organisational coherence should be central to achieving success. This was identified by Mantal and Ludema as appreciative leadership, which they define as an individual’s on-going commitment to helping others develop their gifts and potential.
Literature has shown that many organisations that strive towards high employee satisfaction, motivation, and engagement do so by encouraging all those in leadership positions to employ appreciative behaviours alongside their task-orientated leadership behaviours. The value added to the organisation by leaders who demonstrate this appreciative capacity can be seen in increased employee satisfaction and lower employee turnover.
This appreciative capacity leads to strengthened working relationships, a psychologically healthy work environment, and consequently an overall improvement of employee satisfaction and productivity.
In 2010, Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rader unpacked the term Appreciative leadership which refers to individual’s ability to “discover, gather and amplify the existing strengths and successes of members, organisations and their communities in order to create positive and sustainable change for the organisation and the world.” In order to create a culture of appreciation, according to Whitney et al. (2010) there are five core strategies a leader must implement before a he/she can successfully turn potential into elevated positive performance.
The five core strategies are:
1. Inquiry: understanding other perspectives that create momentum for change whilst learning, exploring, and discovering. Broadening individuals’ thought‒action repertoire by asking positive questions leads to an increase in the magnitude of thoughts and actions that come to mind, thus increasing positive power and innovation.
2. Illumination: highlighting the strengths and best practices of individuals and organisations. Appreciative leaders do this by seeking the best in people, situations, and organisations, by seeing and understanding what works when people are at their best, by sharing stories of best practices for learning, and, lastly, by aligning strengths for development and collaborative advantage. Illumination provides the opportunity for the appreciative leader to reinforce another individual’s identity, thus strengthening it by giving hope and self-confidence, thereby turning potential into power.
3. Inclusion: This is a prerequisite for organisational success, and an appreciative leader accomplishes this by consciously engaging with all employees, thereby co-creating the organisation’s future. Inclusion relies on the relational aspect of appreciative leadership, as it ensures that goals and future plans satisfy a diverse workforce, thus fostering overall commitment to shared organisational visions and goals, and inspiring the collective pursuit of both. Inclusion moves away from the perpetual focus on diversity as a commodity, and instead focuses on the degree to which individual employees feel valued and a part of important organisational processes.
4. Inspiration: Appreciative leadership uses the positive power of inspiration by empowering individuals, teams, and organisations into conversation surrounding their hopes, dreams, and ambitions, thus creating a flow of expanded positive potential. Cultivating a climate of inspiration promotes collective transformation by empowering people and driving them into action, thus creating a source of individual and organisational achievement.
5. Integrity: When a leader demonstrates integrity, his/her ideals will be supported and followed, his/her way of working will be emulated, and employees will contribute their best efforts. An appreciative leader is in the ideal position to postulate working with integrity, because, this requires access to day-to-day conversations and decisions, and the leader has the power to influence others responsibly. Appreciative leaders demonstrate integrity by aligning the whole organisation by ensuring that the organisation’s purpose, principles, and practices are understood congruently throughout all departments.
Appreciative leadership assumes that each individual has a positive core — positive potential waiting to be realised. It recognises this potential, and turns it into positive power, which can be understood as the ability to initiate an activity. A true appreciative leader has the ability to guide individuals outside of the limits of their own reality, thus growing them and exposing them to a larger, more appreciative reality, where their potential can develop further.
The appreciative leader is able to set potential free, generate and sustain performance, and thus ensure that meaningful results are attained for the individual and the organisation.
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