Case 5: You Get More of What You Pay Attention To

'The Appreciative Self' begins with the assumption that whatever we want more of already exists, if only in tiny quantities. We begin by believing in and looking for the best in people and organizations. We have to get over the belief that our experience is "the truth" and assume we can have a different experience by changing our mental map. Numerous managers who have learned the technique of the Appreciative Self have discovered that when they start to look for something they didn't think was there, they start to see it. The more attention they pay to it, the more of it they get.

Here's a dramatic story about the impact of how being appreciative created partnership.

Tim, the consultant, flew in for his usual monthly two-day plant visit and as usual was met at the airport by Ken, the operations manager. Tim had been working at the plant for six months and was credited with having helped create a lot of positive change in work relationships, which was paying off in productivity and quality improvements. Ken, however, met Tim at the airport with a tale of doom and gloom. Two weeks ago the replacement for the regional vice-president, who was physically based at this plant, took up his new position. The new RVP, Eric, had a reputation throughout the company as ruthless, demanding, aggressive, manipulative, and very hard to work for. But as a plant manager in another region he had gotten results in more than one operation, and that had led to this promotion. Tim's clear leadership style seemed the complete opposite of Eric's style, and Ken thought that Eric would quickly pull the plug on Tim's consultancy. As they drove back to the plant Ken regaled Tim with stories of Eric's abusive behaviour since his arrival. Things sounded very bad indeed. Tim decided to try to keep an open mind.

Once Tim arrived at the plant a number of people came up to him to talk about their despair over the changes since Eric had arrived. At 10 that morning the usual management meeting took place, but the atmosphere was even worse than it had been when Tim first started working there. Sure enough, Eric was bossy, sarcastic, and demeaning. People were completely closed down and no truth-telling was going on. Tim decided that he would not be able to do anything for them if he got caught up in their sense of helplessness and doom. Instead, he began tracking the part of Eric that wanted to be a wise, compassionate, and loved leader. He looked and looked, and noticed at one point in the meeting that Eric offered some good ideas about how to deal with a personnel problem. At a break Tim mentioned how wise and compassionate that idea was. Over the next two days Tim was in the presence of Eric a few more times, and each time he ignored everything else about Eric and just paid attention to the part of him that wanted to be loved as a leader. Whenever he saw Eric do something that had the slightest wisdom or compassion he said something about it.

During lunch of the second day Eric sent a message to Tim that he wanted to see him before he left for the day. Everyone, including Tim, assumed that Tim was going to be given the pink slip and that would be the end of that. When Tim went to see Eric, however, something quite different happened. Eric almost broke down as he described to Tim his realization that he had gotten where he was by being ruthless, demanding, and aggressive, but that he was at a management level now where those characteristics would not be effective and that he was scared and didn't know what to do. He asked Tim to help him, and the work went on from there.

If Tim had paid attention to what he didn't like in Eric's behaviour he would have quickly been shown the door. Using an appreciative mindset and tracking the best parts of Eric allowed that part of Eric to recognize an ally-someone who saw what others weren't seeing-and created enough trust in him to confide his doubts and fears to Tim. Let's face it, who are you going to go to for help and advice? Someone who sees the worst in you or someone who sees the best in you? The Appreciative Self creates partnership by tracking the best in people and fanning it when you see it.

Learn the skills of being an Appreciative Self in Innervate's Clear Leadership course.

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When you dream, do not be realistic and fit your dream to what exists and is possible. Fit your dream to what should exist, and should be possible.

- June Callwood

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