I recently met Dr. Gervase R. Bushe (Professor of Leadership and Organisational Development at the Beedie School of Business, Simon Frasier University, Vancouver), a leading expert on Appreciative Inquiry and associate with numerous consulting groups, as well as author of ‘Clear Leadership: Sustaining Real Collaboration and Partnership at Work’ (Davies Black: London), and gave him a copy of my book. He was very complimentary and gracious enough to send me an endorsement which I have included below.
Endorsement of ‘Positive Psychology at Work: How Positive Leadership and Appreciative Inquiry Create Inspiring Organizations’. By Sarah Lewis, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Reviewed by Gervase R. Bushe
I should start by saying I don’t know Sarah Lewis and just met her briefly a few weeks ago when she gave me a copy of this book. I’m saying that so you’ll know my glowing review is not tainted by association. I started reading it expecting another twist on Appreciative Inquiry from the lead author of one of my top 5 AI books but I was in for a very pleasant surprise. This book really isn’t about Appreciative Inquiry, though at a few key points she links the topics she’s just covered in a way that helps people better understand how and why AI works. Instead, this book is a treasure trove of research and models on the practice of good management.
I find most books written by consultants are advertisements for their consulting practice. Many might make a good article. But not this book. This book is a serious review of useful research on positive organization behavior in the past ten years. Because it’s written by a consultant, it looks at it from a very practical perspective and it’s written in an engaging, easy to follow manner that connects the dots in a way you seldom see. I can’t think of another book I’ve read in the past decade that does such a good job of integrating a scholar’s concern for research grounded explanations with a consultant’s concern for ideas with leverage.
Sarah Lewis’s writings seem to have this in common – they are attempts to explain to managers with little background in psychology and OB, in frameworks they will understand, why they ought to think about issues and processes OD practitioners often take for granted. This book is, in my opinion, her finest effort to date. None of her assertions about what managers ought to do are based on stories or “her experience” (though she brings those in fluidly to illustrate her points) – they are all based on well informed explanations of the best scientific research.
Using as a starting point the research on organizations as complex adaptive systems, each chapter builds on the previous one. She describes the research on “positive workplaces” and follows the evidence to explain why they result in higher productivity and financial returns. She reviews how “engagement” actually influences organizational outcomes and what the research shows managers can actually do to influence that. She describes Damasio’s work on how emotions influence decision-making and draws clear, practical consequences, making an interesting link to Weick’s work on sense-making as a substitute for decision-making (very provocative, and you’ll have to read it if you want to know what that means). She does a nice job summarizing Lutheran’s and Aviolo’s research on positive and authentic leadership, linking these Rowland & Higgs research on how leaders create change. In her most innovative chapter she brings a variety of models together to look at how mangers can influence “positive sustainable growth”. By the end she has made a compelling case for the use of dialogic and emergent approaches to change, like appreciative inquiry and open space, which any thoughtful person will find hard to resist.
She manages to do all this without a lot of name dropping, distracting referencing, or relying on obtuse academic language. One of my favorite examples comes from her explanation for why personality isn’t that useful a lever for managers but psychological states are. To explain this she describes the “big five” model of personality without calling it that. The conventional labels for these factors (e.g., neuroticism) are only understood by academics and more likely to create negative and inaccurate connotations in the average person’s mind. Here’s typical Sarah Lewis,”Personality can broadly be understood as the idea that people differ in their patterns of relatively stable traits. The five key traits are: how outgoing, how responsive to emotions, how agreeable, how conscientious and how open people are to new experiences.” You won’t appreciate just how clear that statement is unless you read a study on the Big Five from an American Psychological Association journal.
You are going to be happy you picked up and read this book if you fall into one or more of the following categories; 1) You left graduate school ten or more years ago and would like to update yourself on the latest OD relevant research on good managerial practice coming out of academia; 2) You like to have research backed explanations for your suggestions and interventions when you talk to clients 3) You appreciate thinking more deeply about how managers can actually influence people and work, positively. Anyone interested in going underneath the technique of AI to understand why and how it can work will find this book illuminating.
I think it is also a great text for regular “people management” courses in MBA, OD and EMBA programs. I intend to use it.
 Sarah Lewis, Jonathan Passmore & Stefan Canore (2008) Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management. Philadelphia: Kogan-Page.