Real Leaders

Appreciating Business in a Global Gathering

I’m brimming with optimism and less cranky about the world of business! I confess this is a wild reversal in my outlook. As an investigative reporter for more than 30 years in local and network news, corporate misconduct fueled my stories. I couldn’t wait to tell you about a company doing something unethical, unhealthy, or underhanded. But I think I often left viewers in despair. After decades of deficit-based storytelling about the business of business, I’m appreciating a radical new perspective.

In fact, it has a name: appreciative inquiry. To open my mind, I took an executive education class from Professor David Cooperrider, the father of appreciative inquiry, to explore a different way to ask questions. After all, the questions we ask frame the stories we tell. If we search for problems, and talk about problems, we will find problems. And our psyche will be anxiously mired in an inexhaustible supply of obstacles. Appreciative inquiry invites an organization to collaboratively consider and build on its strengths.

If we ask questions and share stories about our most inspired, energizing, motivational successes… imagine the shift in corporate culture. Instead of poking at roadblocks we’re inquiring into a dynamic, hopeful, enthusiastic destiny. We discover a new vista of opportunities out there! And now more than ever, there’s a lot of good corporate conduct to celebrate. In fact, there’s a whole movement called B Corps. And it’s gaining momentum.

There are more than eleven hundred certified companies in 35 countries, based on the premise of “Business as a force for good.” B Corps are certified “to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” Next week I’m looking forward to hearing from its co-founder, Bart Houlahan, who will lead a workshop at the Global Forum: Flourish & Prosper.

He’s invited three B Corps CEOs to join him to talk about the movement’s influence. More than 17,000 companies have downloaded the B Corp assessment tool to see how their impact on society measures up. It’s an inspiring source of metrics to help businesses reach higher. The Global Forum will be a gathering place for hundreds more CEOs and thought leaders to explore their best practices with a higher purpose than profits. And since it’s being held at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve, the next generation of business leaders will be helping to co-create the world we all want. There’s even more reason for optimism with those Millennials.

They’re poised to lead in generative ways, as changemakers. We can see it in our own interactions with them and in studies like the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2014. Millennials aim “to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills, and make a positive contribution to society.” Millennials are wired for social media, transparency, and engagement. They are eager to make a difference and charitable by nature.

The Deloitte global survey shows 63% donate to charity. And more than half of the Millennials say they want to work for companies who support charitable causes. All this feeds my new-found optimism. As a journalist I felt like I had a backstage pass to the world. Next week I’m eager for a front row seat at the Global Forum. Join us for this appreciative inquiry with dynamic business leaders and future business leaders generating ideas to flourish and prosper together.


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