Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Fundemental Leadership. Appreciating Personal Strengths

Almost all research studies and training programs emphasize analysis and imitation of the skills, behavior and thought patterns of other successful leaders. Robert Quinn believes that true leadership comes not from role models, but from an inner change in perspective.

In “Building the Bridge As You Walk On It”, Robert Quinn throws out a challenge. He describes what he calls “a fundamental state of leadership” that involves eight practices linked through a theme of increasing integrity and invites us to engage in a process of deep change in ourselves. Through this personal journey, he says, we become real leaders and, by engaging in the process, we invite others to do the same.

The first three practices are reflective action, authentic engagement and appreciative inquiry.

Reflective Action

Leaders include personal and group reflective practices. As Quinn points out,we tend to assume that there is no place in the work day for reflection, spiritual awareness and personal integration. We do however, find time to complain about the loss balance and share burn out stories.

He includes a reflection exercise designed to help a group gain insights, focus on core issues and create strong relationships. Quinn also recognizes that for some, writing is a way to connect to patterns and link our present to the past. Which ever way works for you, find a place for the reflection and contemplation vital to clearly identifying our core energy – our authentic self.

Sounds like an appreciative approach? It leads nicely into the next step.


Authentic Engagement

Quinn’s description of authentic engagement is based on Robert Fritz’ book “The Path of Least Resistance”. I felt compelled to go back to the source on this one.

Fritz uses the term “fundamental choices” to describe our true life orientation. If we consciously make our fundamental choice we will always make primary choices (specific desired results) and secondary choices (the means to achieve them) that are consistent with our values and purpose. If we do not deliberately make a fundamental choice we become reactive-responsive – victims not leaders, responding to circumstances and certainly not in charge of our own lives. For example, if we react to having a hard time climbing stairs by making a primary choice to get stronger(goal) and a secondary choice to go to the gym 3 times a week (means) without making the fundemental choice for health, it's not likely that we'll stick with it in the long term.

Things you do within a reactive-response orientation to attempt to better yourself can give you the impression of change and movement, but it is not likely that any significant change will take place. Even if your attempts seem to work temporarily, they will not fulfill your truest desires. On the other
hand, once you make the fundamental choice to be the predominant creative force in your life, any approach you choose to take for your own growth and development can work, and you will be especially attracted to those approaches that will work particularly well for you.

The Path of Least Resistance, Robert Fritz 1989.page 193

Our fundamental choice reframes our reality and creates new paths in our lives. If we choose, for example, to be a positive force in our own lives, we may stop old habits of self criticism, replace it with positive critical reflection and use what we learn to generate action. We are not victimized by what happens, we can see it as input that informs our next choices.

Making a fundamental choice is making a choice to be true to the best and highest in yourself. Quinn calls this authentic engagement – committing to live by principle, increasing authenticity while remaining engaged. This leads easily into the third stage where he explores appreciative inquiry as a way to “call forth and expand our own personal core”.

Appreciative Inquiry

Quinn describes an exercise that he was instructed to undertake to find his unique value. He had to contact people and ask them how he most created value or what they saw as his unique, positive characteristics. He selected 35 people who knew him well and would give honest opinions. The resulting feedback was both humbling and uplifting as people shared stories that he had forgotten and described incidents that he did not think people would remember or value. By synthesizing the feedback he was able to create a description of his positive core, the essence and source of his personal value creation – a description of himself, not as he always is but when he is at his very best. He found it energizing, humbling and powerful.

So what....

Compare Quinn’s approach with traditional feedback gathering mechanisms. Although we ask “what do I do that supports you” the next question is usually some form of “what I am doing wrong, what do I need to fix?” The equivalent of “yeah...but” and a slippery slope to good old problem solving. Left with a list of what we are not doing well, there is a tendency to make “New Years’ Resolutions (NYRs)” to eliminate the undesirable behaviour.

Why don’t we ask for positive valuations? There is something in human nature that drives us to fixate on our flaws and believe it is bragging to “blow your own horn” or as Quinn puts it “violating the norms of humility”.

Humility is not weakness and it is certainly not lack of power. Intentional people are aware of their unique abilities and, with real self knowledge, focus on using those strengths to fulfill their personal mission and purpose. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful workplace that enabled each person to find that power centre with the core energy that excites passion and commitment? Imagine a workplace full of people who are “on purpose”.

I’ll give the last word to Robert Quinn.

“Real humility comes when we see the world as it really is. The real world is a world of connectedness, of moving flows of power. When we transcend our own egos, when our outer self and our inner self connect,we experience increased integrity, increased oneness, greater connectedness. At such moments we feel greatness.”

Thought Leaders Interview with Robert Quinn at Hr.Com on August 30,2004. Register at http://www.hr.com/Events/HRSeminars.cfm#245 to hear the interview with HR.Com - it's free!




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