Appreciative Leadership

Where is your favourite place in the world?  This can evoke answers like: Santorini in Greece, Banff in Canada, Uluru in Australia or even the MCG.  Well my favourite is now Orne Harbour in the Antarctic Peninsula.

In January this year, I was fortunate to travel to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions on the Sea Adventurer.  I had an amazing 6-day expedition cruise viewing icebergs, glaciers, mountains and abundant wildlife.  Orne Harbour was the highlight with glaciers, whales, penguins, seals and breathtaking scenery in all directions.

Whilst I could wax lyrical about Antarctica and my learnings about this amazing part of our planet and fragility of the environment, I would like to share what I learnt about leadership.

The leader of our expedition epitomises what I describe as the Appreciative Leader.  Born and raised in Alaska, he has an engaging, passionate, relaxed and optimistic style.  I was impressed by how he never missed an opportunity to make an appreciative comment to his expedition team who worked 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The team’s response was always positive – they were always engaging and approached each request with a can-do attitude.  I got the sense that his team would do anything for him. 

His style reminds me of how in our leadership programs we often talk about the 3:1 positivity ratio for giving more appreciative feedback than developmental feedback.  For more on this, see Dr Barbara Fredrickson’s book: Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive.  To summarise, people will really flourish when positive and appreciative mindsets and behaviours are 3 times more frequent than negative and critical thoughts and behaviours.  Whilst this book takes a predominantly individual lens, it similarly applies to leaders and their teams. 

So, I leave you with some questions to reflect on:

  • What positivity ratio are you currently batting at?  Many people I share this with say that a 1:1 ratio is a high bar, let alone 3:1.  I know I don’t get over that one…
  • What would it be like if you approached your leadership with the metaphor of expedition and adventure?  How would your teams respond?

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