Appreciative Inquiry: A Transformational Leadership Strategy

In our dissertation work (at Asbury Theological Seminary), Joleen and I chose Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as the strategy for our field research (at the suggestion of our mentor, Dr. Russell West).

AI, which grew out of Dr. David Cooperrider’s Ph.D. work in the 1980s, is a response to more traditional approaches that tend to focus on problems. Rather than focusing on problems, AI focuses on discovering and building on the life-giving forces within an organization. A core belief of AI is that in every organization, something works.

AI has flourished as an organizational development strategy and has been used in many organizations, including Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), World Vision, American Red Cross, and United Way of America (check out “The Art of Appreciative Inquiry” to read more on GMCR’s experience with AI).

The Framework
AI is a process and is commonly described with the 4-Ds (discover, dream, design, and deliver) or the 4-Is (initiate, inquire, imagine, and innovate). I prefer the 4-Is, myself.

  • Initiate involves laying the groundwork for the AI process, including the selection of the topics that will be addressed. A core belief in AI is that what is focused on will determine the direction of the organization.
  • Inquire centers around interviews which seek to draw out positive stories about times when interviewees have seen things working at their best.
  • Imagine brings the stories (collected in the interviews) together so that themes can be identified.
  • Innovate involves developing practical steps to turn vision into reality.

Implications for Transformational Leaders
We believe AI has tremendous implications and possibilities for leaders who seek transformation in their organizations, because …

  • AI is collaborative. AI involves many people (potentially everyone in the organization) in the process, giving everyone a chance to contribute to the direction of the organization.
  • AI gathers stories. These stories not only provide insight into the life-giving forces of an organization, they also serve as resources in casting vision to keep the organization moving forward.
  • AI focuses on what’s right, not what’s wrong. Whereas focusing on what’s wrong (what’s not working) is de-motivating, focusing on what’s right (what’s working) is motivating and energizing. (This is not to say that problems are ignored; rather, they must be reframed.
  • AI generates positive action. The point of AI is not simply to learn what the life-giving forces of an organization are. Rather, the point is to maximize those life-giving forces and create positive action.

We plan to incorporate AI into our own work of transformational leadership in the churches we lead.

To learn more about AI …
Here are some books and Web sites we’ve found helpful …

I’m sure we’ll write more about AI in the future as we further integrate it into our leadership. We may also share the experiences/results of AI processes from our dissertation work. In the meantime, feel free to discuss AI in the comments section and/or to suggest other must-see AI resources.

Defenses Scheduled!

Two weeks ago, we posted that we had mailed the defense-ready drafts of our dissertations to our mentor, who delivered them to the doctor of ministry office on March 6 (after one last read-through).

In the meantime, the editor at Asbury is currently editing them (they should be returned to us within the next few days).

The doctor of ministry office has also been working on scheduling our defense hearings, and we received confirmation yesterday that our defenses have been scheduled

Randy’s defense — Thursday, April 17, 2008 (1:30 – 3:30 pm).

Joleen’s defense — Friday, April 18, 2008 (9:00 – 11:00 am).

Interestingly, we will return from Asbury on Friday (4/18) (and possibly, Saturday, 4/19, depending on how our first long road trip with Ethan goes), and then return for our first Sunday (4/20) after our parental leaves. That’s going to be quite a few days!

In case you missed it, we also detailed the road map for finishing our dissertations between now and graduation.

We would appreciate your continued prayers as we finish up this part of our journey!

The Rest of the (Dissertation) Story

Now that our defense-ready drafts are on their way to Asbury (see last post), the countdown to the end of the journey officially begins. The finish line is now in sight!

So, what’s next? We’re certainly not done yet, but our to-do list is getting much shorter …

  • Our mentor will receive our drafts this evening. He’s going to look over them one more time, then deliver them to the doctor of ministry office by Friday.
  • Once the doctor of ministry office receives them, they will begin scheduling our defenses, which should be somewhere around 6 weeks from now (around the end of our parental leave).
  • When the doctor of ministry office receives our drafts, they’ll go immediately to an editor, who will use a lot of red ink on them (like last time).
  • While we wait for the edits to be returned to us, we both plan to develop the literature review section (which is never really done till the end).
  • We’ll get the edited copies back in a couple weeks, and will have another couple weeks to make the corrections and edits.
  • After making corrections and edits, we will mail 3 defense-ready copies of our drafts to the doctor of ministry office (one for each member of our dissertation committee).
  • At the time of our defenses, we will travel to the Asbury campus in Wilmore, KY.
  • If our defenses are successful, we will have 2 weeks to make further, final revisions (changes recommended by our dissertation committee at our defenses).
  • Our post-defense drafts will be edited by an editor one final time, which means we will have to make corrections one more time.
  • Finally, at the end of the process, we will submit final copies, a minimum of 5 printed copies of our final drafts (for binding), plus any extras we want, I suppose.

The list still looks long, but it will keep moving and it should be manageable (with God’s help). The light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter and brighter!

And our gratitude to God, who continues to work out all the details, keeps getting stronger and stronger as well!

Oh, What a Relief!

Today was a huge day on our dissertation journey. If you’ve read our latest posts, Back to School and Back to School 2.0 (including several of my daily updates last week in the comments section of the second post), you know we returned from Korea with a big deadline looming over us.

At first, we were overwhelmed when we returned and read our mentor’s feedback notes. We actually wondered if we’d have to postpone our graduation, at least till December. Fortunately, phone conversations with our mentor last Monday helped us get a sense that finishing and graduating this May was do-able. That gave us a needed boost of momentum.

For the most part, we put in a few hours each day, taking shifts with Ethan, working during his naps, and on a couple of occasions, working after he went to bed. On one occasion, Joleen worked at her laptop while Ethan napped in the Ergo Baby Carrier she was wearing.

Today was the most challenging day — wanting/needing to mail our drafts put us under the gun. Plus finding time to work today wasn’t so easy. Ethan got up early, which ruled out an early start for us. We were hoping Ethan’s late morning nap time would give us a good opportunity to finish up, but that was cut short thanks to the siren at the volunteer fire company located within a few hundred yards from our house. A little later, still sleepy, Ethan fell asleep in my arms as I was trying to finish up.

We had other challenges too — our printer appears to have died yesterday [EDIT: Well, it looks like our printer has a little more life; after attempting everything I could think and/or find by way of online searches, I was able to get it working), and the church copier/printer that’s in the home office is not producing clean prints. We uploaded our drafts to Staples Copy Center, then picked up the printouts about 45 minutes later at Staples in State College.

We were planning to overnight our drafts at the USPS in Pine Grove Mills. However, the deadline for overnight packages was 3:45 pm, which was just a little too early for us (we picked up our copies at Staples around that time). We ended up shipping them via UPS (located in the Staples store) — for $52.20 (and that was for an evening delivery; morning delivery was much higher!). 😯 [EDIT: I just calculated how much it would have cost at – $30.70, so that was a costly missed deadline.]

But, oh, what a relief!

The best news about these drafts being submitted to the doctor of ministry office (of course, we’re relying on our mentor to deliver them to the office by Friday) is that this step gets our defenses on the calendar. IOW, with this step, the clock officially starts to count down. Everything we have left to do (watch for the next post) is tied to a timeline that will come to an end in less than 10 weeks (with graduation in less than 12 weeks).

After mailing our drafts today, we both spent the rest of the day with Ethan, which included a couple firsts for us as a family. But we’ll save that story for a post (possibly) tomorrow. Also, watch for an update on our (especially Ethan’s) transition and adjustment in the next few days.

For now, thanks to all who have prayed with/for us anytime during this journey!

Back to School 2.0

A week ago, I wrote about going Back to School. But it was probably too optimistic to think that we could hit the ground running so soon after our return from Korea — adjusting with Ethan, recovering from the flu, and now battling cold/sore throats; thankfully, Ethan continues to be well!).

But we did read the notes that Russell (our mentor) sent us while we were in Korea. After reading them, however, we were feeling pretty overwhelmed and had nearly given up on a May 2008 graduation. Fortunately, we both had very good phone conversations with Russell today and our work looks very do-able now — assuming that we both get well and Ethan cooperates.

Our plan is to complete our revisions by the end of the week, then overnight our drafts to Russell this weekend. After he takes a final read-through, he will submit them to the D.Min. office for us. As long as they’re in the office by one-week-from-Friday (3/7), we should be able to get our defenses scheduled in time for the May 2008 graduation.

Over the next few days, we will be taking shifts with Ethan. Please pray that our adjustment will continues to go well and that we will be able (physically and mentally) to complete our drafts.

Ethan’s transition is going mostly well — still some rough spots here and there (mostly related to sleep). Last night was Ethan’s first night to sleep the entire night (of course, wouldn’t you know that it was Joleen’s turn to put him to bed and tend to him during the night; we’ll see how tonight goes! He did get to sleep the earliest so far, 9:45 pm.).

We’ve heard that many times during the transition period, the child just isn’t him/herself. We’ve noticed that Ethan has been laughing a lot more in the last two days. We’re grateful for that!

One final thing about Ethan — the boy can eat. At dinner time tonight (as we sometimes must do), we had scramble and find things for him to eat. Joleen was crushing a pear and feeding it to him (he ate fresh fruit already in Korea). You should have seen us — I had to start crushing the pear while Joleen fed him — it took two of us to keep up with him. And based on his frustration with our speed, we may need to recruit a third person! 😆

Anyway, thanks for your prayers throughout our journey. Please continue to pray for our ongoing transition and dissertation work over the course of the next few days!

And check the “comments” for reports on our progress.

Back to School

If bringing a child into our family and dealing with the adjustment issues that go along with an international adoption from Korea were not enough, it’s time for both of us to resume our work on our dissertations on Tuesday (God willing!).

As some of you may recall, we had just submitted a rough draft of our final two chapters to our mentor the day before we received the call that Ethan was ready for pick-up in Korea. While we were in Korea, our mentor, Dr. Russell West, emailed us his feedback.

We will work on making the necessary improvements and revisions so that we can have complete mentor-approved dissertations to submit to the D.Min. office within the next 1 to 3 weeks so that our defenses can be scheduled in time for graduation in May (we hope this is do-able!).

We know we are really cutting it close, and that we really need God’s help with juggling our dissertation work with caring for, and spending time with, Ethan. One thing is for certain: these two journeys (adoption and dissertation) have tracked each other extremely closely over the last 13 months.

We trust that God will continue to work out all of the details, so that we can put our Doctor of Ministry chapter behind us!

First Full Drafts Done!

joleenatworkIf you’ve been following our doctor of ministry journey and/or adoption journey, you know we’ve both been pushing to get our first full, 5-chapter drafts in to our mentor by the time we go to Korea. Expecting a call from Korea any day now has put the pressure on us to get them done (not to mention the fact that our final deadline is approaching!).

While completing these drafts won’t give us too much of a breather, it is a huge weight off our shoulders. And maybe we will be able to reclaim our kitchen and dining room space!

randyatworkToday, we both finally completed our first full drafts, one year after beginning this dissertation-writing process. Having completed our proposal hearings in late September, our field research in November and December, we were finally ready to write the last two chapters in January. In case you missed it, click here to read a little about our dissertation topics.

What’s next?

We’ll email our drafts to our mentor tomorrow afternoon. While we wait to hear back from our mentor, we will work on revising/updating chapter 2 (the literature review, which is never really done until the end). Basically, we have about 4 weeks or so (which is expected to include a trip to Korea!) to work with our mentor, Dr. Russell West, in getting our drafts ready to be submitted to the D.Min. office so that our defenses can be scheduled (probably in April). Assuming we survive all of that on time, we hope to graduate in May!

Thanks to all those who have been praying us through this! 8)

Cross-Cultural Experience

As part of our Doctor of Ministry program at Asbury, we are required to complete a cross-cultural experience. We plan to complete our cross-cultural experience in Korea (when we go to pick up our baby).

Thanks to our bishop, Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, for putting us in contact with Bishop Jeremiah Park (bishop of NY area), originally from Jae-Chun, Korea, who put us in contact with a friend of his, Rev. Yong Jai Jun, in Korea.

Rev. Jun is the senior pastor of Flame Methodist Church in Sung Nam City, near Seoul. Bishop Park describes Flame Methodist Church as one of the most vibrant Methodist churches in Korea. We are in the process of coordinating our cross-cultural experience with Rev. Jun.

We look forward to seeing and participating in the work of the church while in Korea. We are somewhat aware of our Westernized Christianity, and we pray that God will give us a glimpse of a part of himself that we are currently unaware as we observe another part of the body of Christ. We pray that God will deepen our spiritual walks as well as our leadership in his Church!

So, we’ll go to Korea for two purposes: 1) to pick up our baby boy, and 2) to experience as much of the culture, including the church culture, as we can while we’re there. We will post lots of reflection and photos here about our experience in Korea, and we invite you to experience the Korean culture with us by reading along.

God continues to work out all the details regarding our adoption and doctor of ministry journeys. We are so grateful!

What’s God up to?

In my journal this morning, I wrote a prayer related to the time crunch we’re currently facing. We are expecting to receive a call to go to Korea to pick up our baby anytime within the next few weeks AND we are actively (frantically?) working toward finishing the first complete, 5-chapter rough draft of our dissertations.

Our hope is that we can submit our drafts to our mentor about a week from now, which would give us a few/several weeks for edits/polishing. Somewhere in the middle of that process, however, we’ll make a trip to Korea to begin a new journey that will, no doubt, create changes in our lives, and throw an interesting twist into the mix of our graduation timeline.

In light of all this, I prayed the following prayer this morning …

While it seems a bit crazy, Lord, to undertake an adoption process while writing dissertations, we believe, O God, that we have followed your leading. We believe that you have had us at Asbury to further our spiritual and leadership development and that you will even use our current work to make a difference somehow in the cause of your kingdom! We also believe that you had a child created especially for us. And  because you have shown yourself faithful to us in the past, we believe that you will finish what you have started in a way that strengthens our faith and brings you glory. Amen.

Not sure what God’s going to do. But I look forward to it!

Field Research

Over the course of the last several weeks, we have both conducted field research for our dissertation work. Between us, our travels have taken across Pennsylvania, as well as to New York and Ohio.

In our last D.Min. update, we announced our topics. Joleen is studying integrated small groups and Randy is studying how leader/communicators shape a missional culture.

We each visited four churches. The first churches we visited were pilots — opportunities to work out the bugs and hone our interview questions. Randy’s plan was to interview the lead pastor at each site plus 2 or 3 other core leaders. Joleen’s plan was to interview a small group leader plus 3 or 4 small group participants at each location. We both developed interview guides using a research method called Appreciative Inquiry (AI) (watch for a post on AI, and its implications for leadership, a little later).

Randy conducted his pilot at Faith UMC (Bellefonte, PA), and Joleen conducted her pilot at First Presbyterian Church (Beaver, PA). Randy chose Faith Church because that’s where his mentor, Doyle Klinger, serves; Doyle is a leader who is shaping a missional culture. Joleen chose First Presbyterian because their pastor, Jeff Arnold, wrote The Big Book on Small Groups, which was central to Joleen’s research.

After our pilot interviews, Joleen traveled to Living Word Community Church (Red Lion, PA), The Bridge (Shillington, PA), and NorthPointe Community Church (Limerick, PA). Randy traveled to Morris UMC (Morris, NY), Bethany UMC (Latrobe, PA), and Ginghamsburg UMC (Tipp City, OH).

We are grateful for the churches who worked with us and made themselves available to us. We plan to spend the next 2-3 weeks analyzing the data we’ve gathered at these sites and writing about what we’ve learned as we enter the last leg of the dissertation-writing journey!