It was twenty years ago when ‘The Art of Possibility’ was published. It was, and I contend still is, a masterpiece of leadership thought and practice.
At its heart, authors Rosamund Stone and Benjamin Zander proposed a different way for us to see the world, one which is more inquisitive, gentler and more appreciative of others. In time, by adopting the ten practices they delved into, miraculous changes began to take place. It seems the power of compound interest is not just the strongest force in the Universe but could exert a similar impact in human relationships.
The first practice they offer is titled ‘Giving others an A’. It may seem rather straightforward, but its impact, I found, runs deep and has had a long-lasting impact in my life and for those I have had the fortune of working with. It calls on us to see the best in others and to provide them with an opportunity to bring the best of themselves, by giving them an ‘A’ upfront. All they had to do was to hold onto that ‘A’. Some of you may argue that this is an experiment doomed to fail and as the mean distribution of performance scores at work would indicate, most of us rarely reach an ‘A’. How could they hold onto something we rarely get to? Here lies our shortsightedness. We may not all demonstrate an ‘A’ upfront. Practice is key to mastering any skill. But what if by giving others an ‘A’, we change the rules of the game? What if giving an ‘A’ to someone is a powerful invitation to try once more, or perhaps to try a new way of working? What if it allows us to think less about the score and more about how we could innovate, looking ahead?
We have witnessed this firsthand, on so many occasions, in our work with clients.
Many in our profession see problems where there are in fact opportunities and assess client challenges from a perspective of lacking rather than from one of capability. We see this differently!
What we choose to see often determines the results and hence, at the outset of any client engagement, we go in with an appreciative mindset, with an intentionality to find first what is rather than what isn’t. That is not to say that challenges and lacking capabilities are overlooked – far from it. They are looked at from a foundation of greater insight, from a different vantage point – appreciative of both what is present and what is lacking and the deeper dynamics that are at play. Look at the (stated) problem and you see a symptom (at best). Look at the underlying dynamic and you may see a rich and dynamic organism, adapting to changing conditions. The range of options this deeper ‘seeing’ provides allows us to help shift what matters most. More so, it allows our clients to see themselves in a different, a richer light, and the desire to grow and transform becomes an enduring feature of whatever work we were asked to participate in.
Rosamund and Benjamin Zander provide us, now more than twenty years later, an opportunity to see people as truly human, organisations as purposeful and dynamic organisms, able to learn and adapt, and seemingly entrenched problems as opportunities to transform. Let’s practice giving people an ‘A’ in life, assuming the very best in them. It has the potential to transform our relationships and discover value well beyond what meets the eye.
Have a good weekend everyone!
Saar Ben-Attar (A Connector Beyond Limits)
Ascent Growth Partners Manifesto