Three Invitations to Practice Appreciative Resilience

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Posted by Joan McArthur-Blair - 21 August, 2018

Resilience is not a skill we conquer as leaders. Rather, it is a practice that we undertake, armed with the knowledge that as we venture and evolve as leaders, there are no quick fixes nor predetermined lists that will protect us from the ravages of leading in the day-to-day. The power of the practice of appreciative resilience is that we get to flounder, fail, reach dizzy heights, be compassionate, and begin tomorrow anew, all of which enriches the practice of resilience. 

Leading in the modern world is not for the faint of heart. It is especially complex for those of us who seek to make a positive difference in the world. Amongst the many practices of modern leadership, appreciative resilience is one of the most powerful. Appreciative resilience brings into focus how appreciative inquiry practices and processes can foster resilience.

Knowing how to practice appreciative resilience in the most challenging of times, fostering hope and a hopeful view as a tenet of appreciative resilience, and approaching forgiveness as a powerful force for appreciative resilience are all practices that sustain the work of leadership. One CEO we spoke to about hope, despair, and forgiveness said, “That sums up most of my days as a leader,” and she is not alone in this experience.

1. An Invitation to Practice Strengths in Times of Despair

Despair and challenging times are a reality of leadership. Sometimes, despair is easily shaken off — what we call a glancing blow — and sometimes, despair is a dark and abiding force that lingers with us for what seems like an eternity. Even as despair visits, we extend an invitation to reflect on the strengths you bring as a leader to this experience of despair.

You can begin by asking yourself to acknowledge what you are doing that allows you to rise each day and lead.

It can be the smallest of things: lingering over a conversation with a colleague or being kind to those around you, even when you feel as though you are depleted of kindness. Sometimes, the greatest strength is allowing yourself to withdraw for a short while because you need to practice the smallest amount of self-care in order to venture into the next piece of leadership work. Sometimes, as leaders, we need to be vulnerable and share the leadership despair we are experiencing. Focusing deeply on the strengths you are exercising each day can make the dark visit of despair seem a little lighter.

We are not writing here about the kind of despair that needs and asks for professional help. We are writing about the kind of despair that finds us as leaders when a project fails, innovation deserts us, we are displaced, or our voices are not heard. These are the brave places of leadership that every leader traverses, and we invite reflection on strengths because it can make the travel seem a little more bearable.

2. An Invitation to Practice Hope and a Hopeful View

This invitation sounds so much easier in the practice of resilience. How hard can practicing hope and fostering a hopeful view be? However, in this powerful practice, there is the critical aspect of being resilient.

Václav Havel, in Disturbing the Peace, powerfully described hope as “not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” It is this practice of hope and a hopeful view that generate a powerfully appreciative, resilient self in leadership. It is not about winning or losing; rather, it is an abiding belief that what you do matters and can create a positive difference. 

Therefore, our invitation is this: Ask yourself, at the end of each day, how do you bring hope and a hopeful view into the foreground of your leadership? What simple leadership actions have you taken today that have allowed hope and a hopeful view to grow?

3. An Invitation to Practice Forgiveness

Forgiveness is an act of great leadership, and it is our third invitation. Practice forgiveness as a tenet of your appreciative resilient leadership self. We have talked to leaders about resilience, and as we listened deeply to their stories, we heard them speak of how they found the ability to venture forward from hardship and despair through the door of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not easy because people do unforgivable things, and yet to forgive is to take back the agency of your own leadership. To forgive opens the door to new ways of thinking and doing; it offers up hope where perhaps there was none. We invite you to think about how forgiveness has created or could create movement in your leadership work. We invite you to practice forgiveness in the day-to-day grind of leadership. Ask yourself how practicing forgiveness both fosters your resilience and aids in your return to hope and a hopeful view.

We hope these three invitations to practice appreciative resilience uplift the powerful work you are doing as a leader in the world to make positive change. Appreciative resilience can grow ever more sustaining the more we practice it as leaders and the more we find our own strengths in resilience. 


This post is a guest post from Joan McArthur-Blair, with collaboration from Jeanie Cockell. Joan McArthur-Blair and Jeanie Cockell are coauthors copresidents of Cockell McArthur-Blair Consulting andspecialize in designing strategies to surface the wisdom of individuals, groups, and organizations to build positive futures. 

To read Joan and Jeanie’s compelling commentary on appreciative resilience, pick up their latest book: Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry: A Leadership Journey through Hope, Despair, and Forgiveness.

Topics: You, Leadership, Organizational Development, appreciative inquiry

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