A large company generates 2000 measurement systems for assessing problems, including exit surveys to study turnover, an annual low morale survey and focus groups with its most dissatisfied customers. Result? 80 per cent of management attention is focussed on fixing weaknesses.

David Cooperrider, the Gestalt-oriented originator of Appreciative Inquiry, believes this is the exact reverse of what should be happening. He doesn’t believe that weaknesses should be denied, but he does think they should be put in their proper place (the 20 per cent bit). If leaders can devote 80 per cent of their time to cultivating company strengths, great things can happen.

This involves a radical shift in attention from concentrating on what’s wrong to appreciating what’s working and what’s worth valuing. And when that happens, inquiry – searching, questioning, discovering – can open the floodgates to new and transformational strengths.

Cooperrider has recently formulated this process in terms of “the three circles of the strengths revolution” that positive psychology is inaugurating in the business world and beyond. Leaders are enjoined in Circle 1 to redeploy their leadership talents from problem hunting to the elevation of strengths: people excel when their strengths are appreciated, valued and amplified. As leadership consultant Peter Drucker puts it, “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos didn’t create a game-changing business by concentrating on weaknesses; he did so through by means of what Cooperrider calls “appreciative intelligence” – the ability to see and then elevate every spark of strength amongst his team into a flame of innovation, generating a powerful culture of positivity and possibility in the process.

Inspiring positive change through effective talent management, leadership training and executive coaching is proving to be vastly more effective in creating strong organisations with high levels of employee and customer engagement than any number of problem-orientated focus groups, exit surveys or low morale polls.

In part 2 of this blog, I’ll discuss the two remaining Circles of Strength.

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