Appreciating what's already present clarifies the future and kicks up the energy required to move into it. That's the frame for leadership and organizational development I am sharing with University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. Here's my second in a series of letters to the church.
Have you been to the new downtown library? I have asked this question of just about everyone I meet. I cannot get over how marvelous it is.
The six-story building has spectacular views of the downtown and lake, a rooftop garden, and a restaurant called Cookbook with a menu of recipes from the books of celebrated chefs. And — this is so cool — you can take your drinks and food anywhere in the library!
I have been to the library at least five times now, and I cannot help but walk up to staff members to say, “This has got to be the best library in the country!” I feel like Elf, the title character played by Will Farrell in the hit holiday movie, who walks by an old New York City coffee shop with a sign in the window that says “World's Best Cup of Coffee” then enters just to say “You did it! Congratulations! World's Best Cup of Coffee! Great job, everybody!”
I am so excited about this city and our congregation! I smile as I walk to and from the church. I am compelled to say hello to the people I pass. It just feels like the right response to the good news of living with a beautiful community in an amazing place.
I want to cultivate with you a positive regard for our life together. That's why in the coming weeks you'll be hearing about “appreciative inquiry.” It's an organizational development approach that starts with the assumption that something good is happening here and needs to be celebrated and leveraged. That's in contrast to the traditional approach, which begins with pathology: Something is broken here and needs fixing.
I'm Elf-like, and I see challenges as well. I recognize the pains of this city on my walks, and I hear the difficulties of our community in conversation. Using appreciative inquiry does not mean we ignore problems. It simply means we first build a positive regard. We remind each other of the good that is here. We tell stories of what drew us to this church in the first place, and we describe moments when we have been alive, faithful and grateful. The effect of the approach is to root us in our lived experience where strengths and resources reside, which kicks up the energy that is required to engage the challenges.
Jesus' disciples said, “We cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The good news is that compelling. So let the enthusiasm for our life together be our guide as we figure out what's next.