How can we create a thriving organization? Elaine Suess is the President of BeyondBeing Executive & Leadership Coaching. On this episode, she shares how she builds positive cultures in organizations and helps leaders reach higher levels of success by focusing on strengths, asking questions, and quite literally changing the way we think.
A strengths-based approach
We have a million words to describe what’s wrong with us, but only a few to describe what’s right with us. In her approach, Elaine uses Appreciative Inquiry, a positive strengths-based approach. Appreciative Inquiry shifts the questions from “What’s wrong? What’s not working?” to “What do you want and how can we focus on achieving what you want?
The idea is to help leaders and executives push outside of their comfort zone, but not so far outside that they can’t reach it. That’s where growth happens.
Many times, people will develop patterns that live in our blind spots. Sometimes these patterns work really well, and sometimes they don’t. Elaine’s job is to ask questions to help people think internally about whether they want to change their behavior or make different decisions.
Another area people get stuck in is conflict management. We have developed language and beliefs around how to manage conflict, and many times, it’s not working. So then they work on how to shift the communication to a way that feels authentic to them but produces much better results. A tip: when something uncomfortable occurs, address it within 24 hours instead of letting it linger. You’ll free up a ton of energy.
The Amygdala Hijack
When people are put in the fight, flight, or freeze position, that’s called an Amygdala Hijack. When we’re in hijack mode, we don’t have access to our prefrontal cortex, which is where empathy, decision making, creativity, and connection points reside.
Think about the triggers that might get you into hijack mode. If you know what your triggers are and can put strategies in place to manage those, you can improve relationships and outcomes. To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, between stimulus and response is choice. That is powerful because it gives us back our control, which makes us more effective and successful.
The Multiplier Effect
The work that Elaine is doing with people and that people are engaging in is much farther reaching than just themselves. She encourages them to spread the wealth, and shares a story of how one client influenced upward and shared his insights with his supervisor. Employees started performing better, and even the organization’s internal processes began to shift.
Think golf: instead of telling people on the course to stay out of the rough on the left side, wouldn’t it be more effective instead to say, hit the ball over to the right? If we’re more focused on telling our folks what they should be doing instead of what they shouldn’t, and inviting them to the table for a discussion on what would work best, then we get better results.
Collective Intelligence or the Wisdom of the System
Many times, we we might stop at doing a SWOT or GSM — which are great approaches, but another approach is this appreciative approach. Invite and actively search for what your employees know and what they bring to the organization. Tap into their experiences and knowledge. What happens is that people step up as leaders, they’re connected more, and, as one gentleman Elaine worked with said, “These outcomes will work because they’re our ideas.”
Elaine had a client who was worried her employees would see her as weak if she started asking questions. Elaine asked back: “What else might they think? That you value them, that you know they have an opportunity to contribute, that you’re empowering them?”
When you’re willing to ask questions, amazing things happen.