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Appreciative Leadership


Appreciative Leadership is a tool for the 21st Century – in organizations and especially schools. I have witnessed and been a part of practicing it. I have had the opportunity to study it. It is powerful and empowering. People respond.


Whitney et al., define Appreciative Leadership as

“… the relational capacity to mobilize creative potential and turn it into positive power—to set in motion positive ripples of confidence, energy, enthusiasm, and performance—to make a positive difference in the world” (p. 3, 2010).

The work of Schiller, Holland, and Riley (2001); and Whitney, Trosten-Bloom, and Rader (2010) have been seminal and defining in Appreciative Leadership (AL).

Schiller et al. (2001) state that “Appreciative Leadership is more than an individual leadership style; it is a method and practice” (p. 2). Based on their investigations and the resulting Model of Appreciative Leadership (Appendix 4), they conclude that the following themes exemplify Appreciative Leadership:

Theme 1: Leaders are belief-based with an explicit spiritual orientation and practice.

Theme 2: Leadership lives in the group and not in any one person.

Theme 3: Multiple truths exist in ways of thinking, doing and being.

Theme 4: Appreciative Leaders have an unwavering commitment to bringing out the best in themselves and others.

Theme 5: Appreciative Leaders find generative forces in their many circumstances and multiple systems (pp.162-167).

Whitney, Trosten-Bloom, and Rader (2010) assert that “Appreciative Leadership is a philosophy, a way of being, and a set of strategies that give rise to practices applicable across industries, sectors, and arenas of collaborative actions” (p. 3). Their view of AL encompasses four formative ideas:

  1. AL is about relational capacity;
  2. AL is a positive worldview;
  3. AL turns potential into positive power; and,
  4. AL sets positive ripples in motion.

A leader practicing the five core strategies of Appreciative Leadership is the change s/he wants for others and models the cultivation of character, liberation of others’ potential, fostering collaborations, designing innovative structures, and facilitating positive change (Whitney et al, p. 25). Based on their research, the authors derived Five Core Strategies of Appreciative Leadership. They are:

  1. Inquiry: Asking positively powerful questions; The practice of this lets people know that they and their contributions are valued.
  2. Illumination: Bringing out the best in people; People are supported to learn about and use their strengths and understand how to best contribute.
  3. Inclusion: Engaging with people to author the future; This gives people a sense of belonging resulting in a sense of ownership.
  4. Inspiration: Awakening the creative spirit; With a vision comes a sense of hope and direction. Creativity and energy are unleashed.
  5. Integrity: Making choices for the good of the whole; The example of giving our best sets the example for all. (pp. 23-24)

Guiding Question: What would be the difference in our schools if we embraced the use of Appreciative Leadership?

Recommended Resources

Appreciative Leadership: Focus on What Works to Drive Winning Performance and Build a Thriving Organization (book)

Appreciative Leadership – Diana Whitney (video)

5 Strategies of Appreciative Leadership (pdf)

Appreciative Leaders: In the Eye of the Beholder (book)

Appreciative Leadership in a World of Opportunities – JoepC. de Jong (video)


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