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YOU ARE A RARE LEADER: A look at creative leadership and Appreciative Inquiry

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Encouraging leaders - like YOU - to embrace what is working well, study that, and build on it.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of spending some time with Dr. Carole Bergeron who has her PhD in Leadership and Change. Carole’s career ranges from nursing, senior care, and healthcare management, to consulting and higher education.   

The first thing she shared with me is that YOU – yes YOU –  ARE RARE LEADERS. People who work to improve the culture and address the critical issue of staff retention are the visionary leaders who know change needs to happen and care enough to put hard work into making it happen. By reading this blog you are showing an interest in going beyond today and thinking about tomorrow. Thank you for being that type of leader.

We are learning so much about the importance of leadership.  Nearly six million people work in our field. More than 85% of the staff work directly with people with disabilities, while the rest are accountable to these direct support staff. They all look to their leaders for so much. While creating and sustaining any change (such as improving the retention curve) is incredibly difficult, the alternative of high turnover rates is not sustainable.  Yet what do we do?

Creative leaders face the challenge of gravity – the pressure of regulation and dilemmas that present themselves daily. These leaders study problems, develop solutions, action plans and implement them. As an alternative, which Carole uses in her consulting and coaching, she recommends the practice of Appreciative Inquiry: embrace what is working well, study that, and build on it. It focuses us to be amazed at the wonderful things we accomplish and to then help us move forward.

Appreciative Inquiry: embrace what is working well, study that, and build on it.

This is very much like our move from deficit-based assessments of people with disabilities to asset-based assessments. How we lead through the mindset of change is key. I, for one, have a tendency to default to problem solving. After our conversation and reflecting on the outcome, I realize how limiting that can be.  How do we appreciate and build on the success we have? Recently, Quillo had one of the best on-boarding sessions with a new subscriber. We stopped and looked at what made it so great. From there, we will learn how to do it better every time.

In talking with another colleague, I learned how they used Appreciative Inquiry several years ago to implement a successful project. Despite the project’s success, once it ended leadership returned to old habits focused on problem solving. For those who believe and work towards the potential of change, this can be a frustrating situation that could lead to a loss of trust in management, ultimately undermining their efforts and negating their positive results. On the other hand, creating a well-spring of positive attitudes, projects, and results can build on itself and develop the fertile soil needed for real change to take hold and flourish.

Improving the retention curve will take time, so your continued leadership is essential: engaging in positive messaging and celebrating success will help build or sustain a work environment that is growing, supporting and successful. Thanks for being that kind of leader.

I agree with Carole that you are rare leaders. By being here and thinking about change you are showing that leadership.  We are glad you allow us to be part of the journey you are taking to make the work environment a place where people want to stay.  


Looking for more on Appreciative Inquiry? Check out the following resources:

  • Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: The First in a Series of AI Workbooks for Leaders of Change (Cooperrider, Whitney, & Stavros, 2005)
  • The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2003)
  • Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization Toward a Positive Theory of Change (Cooperrider, Sorensen, Whitney, and Yaeger, 2000)
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