"To see things in the seed, that is genius", said Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher. This is what we now refer to as Appreciative Intelligence, a term coined by Tojo Thatchenkery to describe the capacity by certain individuals to see the positive inherent potential of situations or people – it is the ability to see a breakthrough product, top talent, or valuable solution of the future that is not readily visible in the present situation. In short, it is the ability to see the mighty oak in the acorn.
The term originated when the author began studying the explosive entrepreneurial growth in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. According to the author, it is appreciative intelligence that allowed, partly, for so many highly talented immigrants from different countries to assemble in the area and flourish. As the author puts it, venture capitalists looking to fund the right ideas were asking the question, "How can I make this work?" as opposed to "What are the chances this idea will fail?" They created an environment of high anticipation of positive results which became a contagious fever of opportunity, achievement, resilience and possibility recognition. (Appreciative intelligence is not to be confused with appreciative inquiry, which is an approach and methodology for analyzing organizations).
Appreciative intelligence is a mental ability of individuals who have a knack for reframing situations (the glass half full/half empty) and a keen eye for spotting what's valuable and positive in a situation or in people. And these individuals go one step further: they are able to envision how the positive aspects can be used to create a better future. Combining the two in an organization, i.e. a leader with appreciative intelligence using an appreciative inquiry approach, constitutes a powerful force indeed for effecting positive change and inspiring others to give the very best they have to offer. Imagine if all leaders in an organization proactively and mindfully practiced appreciative intelligence. Imagine the profound, healthy impact that this would have on an organization's culture.
Such a culture would fuel employees' motivation. Surveys of what employees want consistently rank "appreciation for work well done" high up on the motivation index – well above "good wages". Ironically, managers often place good wages above appreciation in their responses of what employees want. Other surveys show that one of the reasons employees leave companies is because of lack of praise and recognition. Leaders often talk of the challenge of building trust in their organization. Adele B. Lynn's study on trust in the workplace shows that 54% of those polled would work for less remuneration if the following trust building factors were present:
Recognition and praise are indeed high octane fuel for the soul. When we receive a genuine compliment, we experience an inner glow – it's a warm, magical feeling that makes us break into a smile. It makes us want to go the extra mile for the person who bestowed the sincere compliment. If this were not important to us, we would not be treasuring all of the mementos of awards, plaques, appreciative notes and emails, and other tokens of appreciation that we receive over the years.
But intuitively, we all know that genuine appreciation is a key factor in our relationship with our constituents, and any basic management course will touch on the value of praising employees for their contributions. Yet many well-meaning and otherwise caring leaders are reluctant to express their appreciation of others' talents and contributions.
Many years ago, I worked for a great leader, one who genuinely cared for his constituents, and who confided in me one day that he found expressing praise a very difficult thing to do – publicly and even harder, privately. I asked him why that is. He said, "I grew up in a household where praising was not something we did." There is a profound implication in this statement. Our families are our first corporations – that's where we learned many of our behaviors, and it is often difficult to break these ingrained patterns. Withholding praise, however, is a pattern of behavior that we need to unlearn if we want to bring the best out in people. We need to get over the embarrassment that grips some of us when we have to praise an individual.
Here are some pointers for practicing this important skill:
Perhaps the ultimate appreciation is letting people know that their work – no matter how far removed they are from the top of the pyramid – is important to the organization. It's about making everyone feel like an owner and helping them understand how their work contributes to the overall purpose of the company. It's about practicing seeing more people. Excellence involves everyone.
There is another lovely Chinese quote that says, "A bit of perfume always clings to the hand that gives roses." As leaders, when we make people feel great about themselves, paradoxically we elevate ourselves to greatness as well.
Copyright © 2006 Bruna Martinuzzi. All Rights Reserved.
This article is adapted from Bruna Martinuzzi’s book: The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow. Bruna is an educator, author, speaker and founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd, a company which specializes in emotional intelligence, leadership, Myers-Briggs and presentation skills training. Click here to contact her or visit her website at www.increaseyoureq.com. Click here for other articles by Bruna.
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