This paper was originally written for EDDE 804, Leadership and Project Management in Distance Education. The assignment called for students to present and review a leadership theory. I chose Appreciative Leadership because of my powerful experiences with Appreciative Inquiry and Appreciative Coaching, and because I think Appreciative Leadership may be a cure for today's leadership crisis.
There is a leadership crisis. Kellerman (2012) suggests “leadership is in danger of becoming obsolete” (p. 200) because of dominant cultural constructions of leadership. These constructs, promoted by the leadership industry, include that the wider world only matters insofar as it pertains to the narrow world, and this insular leadership focuses solely on financial performance, disregarding any external damage caused. According to Kellerman, leadership education programs assume leadership can be taught quickly and easily, and that leadership can be taught in silos with a curriculum that concentrates only on what is applicable. Followership is unimportant, bad leadership is unimportant, and not enough attention is paid to slowly changing patterns of dominance (pp. 191-195).
Gronn (2003) also suggests conventional constructs of leadership “are in trouble” (p. 23) due to the oversimplified leader-follower binary. Avolio, Walumba and Weber (2009) add a growing sense that historical models of leadership are not relevant to today’s digital/knowledge economy. The greatest indication of the leadership crisis, however, is that leadership theories and leadership development programs have not enabled leaders to do what leaders need to do. If the essence of leadership is influencing change (Uhl-Bien, 2003), and “80 percent of organizational change initiatives fail to meet their objectives” (Black, 2014, p. 3), conventional constructs of leadership are ineffective.
Kellerman (2012) suggests a perfect world would contain an overarching leadership theory with application to leadership practice (p. 195). Appreciative Leadership may provide that. Whitney, Trosten-Bloom and Rader (2010) define Appreciative Leadership as
a way of being and a set of strategies that give rise to practices applicable across industries, sectors, and arenas of collaborative action. . . Appreciative Leadership is 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).
Gronn (2003) suggests that to study leadership, one should investigate the outcomes of workplace practices and then work backwards. This can be accomplished by examining examples where appreciative practices have been employed.