Deepening the Capacity to Lead: Part 1

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Appreciative Inquiry

 by Kelly Papa, MSN, RN
Corporate Director of Learning, Masonicare University

Long-term care is filled with many challenges, joys and daily changes.  It is vital for leaders to find time to practice leadership behaviors that support culture change, so that when a crisis or challenge pops up they are prepared.  Yet our days are busy, we are always doing.  So when do we practice?  How do we sift through the countless leadership resources to find the ones that are the most important to the work that we do?  While there are many practices that have been found to be important to leading change in long-term care and aging services, the purpose of this two-part article is to look more in-depth at two leadership practices, appreciative inquiry and learning organizations.

Appreciative Inquiry
The challenges that exist in the work of transforming long-term care require a new way of thinking.  We are in a field that is constantly changing and trying to redesign itself.  Yet, when we pause, we can see joy, beauty, and happiness around us each day.  The people drawn to work in aging services are some of the most empathic and nurturing people in the world.  David Cooperrider’s concept of appreciative inquiry asks us to step back and focus on what we appreciate, the good in our situations that are our strengths in our work.  While there is definitely a time and a need for pointing out weaknesses and it may be easier to point out the things that people as teams are weak in but by pointing out strengths and things that people excel in we can advance the change efforts we are most interested in.  As author, poet and leadership educator Judy Brown shares, “the future exists, it is just unevenly distributed.”  To me this quote reminds me to look for the times and places where person centered care is flourishing and learn from those instances.

Appreciative inquiry as a practice can be woven into the way leaders build relationships and tackle challenges.  One way to do this is to alter the way we ask questions, to make them more curious in nature as opposed to leading in nature.  We can ask questions that are appreciative of individuals’ perspectives, honoring of experience, open ended and curious.  We also need to spend time listening, while suspending judgment, to gain a clearer understanding of reality, as well as to appreciate and reflect prior to action.  For example a leader can ask staff questions that give them the charge to reach inside themselves and offer their unique perspectives, including:

  • What do you see as the most important part of the work that you/we do?
  • What stands out to you as the positive ways we offer our residents person centered care?
  • What do you like the most about your job?
  • When are your best days?
  • Who do you count on the most in your job?
  • Considering your role, what skills would you say are the most important to have to be successful?
Reframing questions to solicit the responses that are more positive in nature, rather than negative can help alter the tone of a meeting, especially a meeting that needs to be generative in nature (for example, one in which you need to find solutions or offer new learning).  Asking appreciative questions, rather than questions that are leading or that you already know the answers to, helps to bring about positive feelings that build relationships.  By asking appreciative questions, leaders open up thinking that can be more creative.  Plus it offers time for the leaders to listen more than talk.
Watch for next week’s post, for part 2, A Learning Organization.