An interview with Hannah Pia Baral about her experience with Appreciative Inquiry as a professional development approach to developing leadership:
Hannah, how have you used Appreciative Inquiry?
I did a masters paper at AUT that used Appreciative Inquiry as an approach to examine our professional practice. At that time I was working as a manager for a private training provider. It took a while to convince me that this is a valid method as I was used to a problem-solving approach to identifying gaps and fixing problems. In the end, I realised that this was an effective approach to evaluate one’s own practice from a positive angle by starting off with asking questions based on my own strengths, successes, values, hopes and dreams. Appreciative Inquiry is typically presented as a cycle of four phases known as a 4-D Cycle:
- Phase 1: Discovery of people’s experiences of their group, organization, or community at its most vital and alive and what made those experiences possible
- Phase 2: Dreaming together to envision a future in which those exceptional experiences form the bases for organizing
- Phase 3: Designing appreciative systems and structures to support the manifestation of the co-created dreams
- Phase 4: Destiny or delivery, which involves in implementation of those systems and structures in an ever-expanding positive-feedback loop of appreciative learning
But why did you choose Appreciative Inquiry for this process?
Although I did not personally choose AI as an approach, I was pleased that I had the opportunity to discover it through my postgraduate studies. Initially it felt like a ‘wishy-washy, feel-good’ exercise but I soon discovered that this approach has a lot of grunt and depth. I have since seen Appreciative Inquiry used by political and educational organisations to evaluate projects and activities. I think people who are new to AI should give it a chance before making judgement on it.
How did you go about it?
As part of my assignment I interviewed colleagues I worked closely with. I asked them specific questions like: When am I at my best? My most valued qualities? And on a perfect day, what would my professional practice be like? I also kept a reflective journal for the duration of the academic semester.
What did you find out using the AI approach?
I realised that my professional life is an extension of who I am as person. My professional life does not define my identity and it should not dictate my life. I was able to explore some of my strengths as a leader and what I was good at. This allowed me to more closely focus on the areas I should further develop in my professional practice. Interestingly, the feedback from my colleagues matched the areas that I thoroughly enjoyed in my job. I also found myself asking big questions like ‘what is my life purpose?’, ‘does my professional life define my identity?’, ‘why am I struggling with work/life balance?’, ‘am I still aligned with the organizational values?’, ‘what type of work environment am I best suited to?’. The process became a personal journey of discovery and reflection not confined to my professional practice.
How would you describe the benefits of AI for you?
Human beings generally draw their strength from affirmations, positive feedback and knowing their purpose in life. For me, I found the process really valuable in exploring my own personal and professional identity, and in developing a longer-term view of my own professional and leadership development. The outcome is a major paradigm shift in my own thinking which has had a significant impact on others around me and on my own professional practice.