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Appreciative Leadership for a Diverse World Published: Sunday, February 15, 2009 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel (Coco) Morales

The challenge for organizations around the globe, and also for those in Puerto Rico, is to adapt with intelligence to the turbulent world and local economy.  Underlying this turbulence are two deep global forces, that we have been researching, and that have radically altered what it takes to achieved sustained success:  1) high velocity change, 2) growing complexity and interdependence.

Within a context of more than 200 countries, 50 of them participating in the fierce game of world competitiveness, and with a global population of more than 6 billion people, every year new technologies, markets and competitors emerge at an ever increasing rate.  As we experiment high velocity change, we are all impacted by uncertainty, novelty, but also by possibilities.  Future threats and opportunities are always there to be explored.

With the globalization of the economy and the spread of connective technologies, it is very clear that at last we live in a diverse planetary village, where everything is related with everything else.  We better start teaching kids at schools how to think in terms of systems and complex inter-relationships: thinking about the wholes instead of fragmented parts and functions.

We don’t have to be rocket scientists to predict that the pace of change will continue to increase, and that the levels of complexity, interdependence, uncertainty and even conflict will continue to grow.  In the 21st century management will be and art and a science for coping with the costs of interdependencies, avoiding by all means isolation.  In this context societies and organizations will have to develop appreciative leadership and agile structures for anticipating and responding to rapidly changing conditions by leveraging highly effective internal and external relationships.  Relationships will make or break our futures.  If relationships improve, organizational results will improve.  The same for our society.

For the future, the challenge will be to develop appreciative leadership within all types of organizations to couple with the difficult task of managing scarece resources and optimizing work processes.  In other words, it will a matter of strengthening the heart of people for accomplishing very difficult tasks.  The appreciative leadership protocol will be that of modeling behaviors.  Share all in-depth experiences by way of journal clubs or knowledge sharing sessions, research and present new  knowledge and fresh approaches, learn how to read and interpret the emerging environments with fresh insight (old cassettes will not do the work), and assess the new rules of the game to deliver with adequacy. 

If we want to strengthen the heart of the people, we have to improve the Quality of our interactions and exchanges. Legitimate influence comes from knowledge.  So, appreciative leadership is to accomplish results valued by the organization with which they are fully committed; is to show authentic people skills for making people feel responsible for anything beyond their assigned tasks, is to solve problems, to teamwork, to empower and to encourage colleagues to take steps forward to advance the mission of the organization; to create a participative culture capable of achieving valued outcomes over the long term and to rethink core assumptions and visionary orientation; is to co-creates products, services, approaches and methods for achieving high complexity goals; is to remain centered amid competing demands integrating synergistic solutions that are beneficial to all parties involved.

Clearly, we need a new way of thinking about leadership to account for the new realities and complexities leaders and organizations face in these turbulent times.  The traditional understanding of leadership focusing on individuals in positions of authority in a hierarchical structures is outdated.  We view leadership as the collective activities of organizational members to accomplish the following task: raising and sharing knowledge within a teamwork environment; setting  collectively a direction; building cohesiveness and commitment; and creating alignment.

Raising knowledge means researching, creating ideas and innovating to increase competitiveness.  Setting direction is the articulations of mission, vision, values and strategic initiatives.  Building commitment involves the creation of genuine mutual trust (no room for politicking).  Creating alignment is about finding and stressing, stressing and stressing common ground and areas of interrelated responsibility.

A final statement as heavily researched.  Appreciative leadership as heavily researched is the potential and delicate outcome of interactions of groups of people, rather than specific super-traits of a single person.  By the way, from this perspective, excluding people that can contribute is a serious mistake!  If these interactions are manage with wisdom and maturity, they will lead to the accomplishments of new knowledge, direction, commitment and alignment. 

The ability to draw wisdom to the surface, appreciating what all members are trying to contribute in turbulent times will shape the assessment and deployment of effective leadership in the future.

 


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