Managing Negative Deviance vs. Leading with Appreciation

Posted Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Allen Slade

In our culture, pragmatism runs deep. We see through the lens of problem solving. We look for negative deviance by measuring performance against standards and focusing on shortcomings. We identify weaknesses and we punish shortfalls. We hold others accountable to meet standards. If someone does not measure up, we take corrective action. If someone does meet one set of standards, we look for other areas where they have fallen short.

Yet, as a leader, you are responsible for the debris field of negative deviance. Too much control, too much problem solving undermines your team’s engagement. If you are always focused on problems, your team will lose energy. As I said in The Problem with Problem Solving:

If a given task or situation seems to be laden with problems, you lose energy for that task or situation. External factors (such as a paycheck) may cause you to continue with that relationship, task or situation, but your heart won’t be in it. Excessive problem solving is the problem.

If problem solving drains energy, appreciation builds energy. You must be able to appreciate people and opportunities. You must be able to recognize what is good, true, effective and beautiful.  You must reward progress, not just punish shortfalls.

As a leader, what can you do to help your team maintain the right balance between problem solving and appreciation?

One buffer to negative deviance is leading with appreciation. As a leader, you should look for what is good, true, beautiful and effective. You must help your team members leverage their strengths, not just fix their weaknesses.

I encourage you to try powerful questions to lead with appreciation. The right questions can help shift your team’s focus from problem solving to building on what works well. Pull out the positive by asking:

What is going well? What is better than expected?

What are we doing right?

How are we better than the competition?

Where have we improved? What have we learned?

How can we build on our strengths?

Leading with appreciation will help shake your team out of persistent problem solving. Your team will discover best practices and build on existing knowledge. As your team gets better at appreciation, they will discover sustainable success.

You will also see an impact on your team’s energy. People will engage because they are involved in success, not just a series of problems.

As a leader, your job is to manage energy in others. Try less management of negative deviance and more leadership with appreciation. Then stand back and enjoy the sustained power surge.

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