Come up for AIR and Experience your Energy Soar – PS 71

Episode Introduction

My brilliant guest hails from Toronto, Canada. Maureen McKenna, affectionately known as Mo, is a woman of huge talent, energy, dynamism. She is highly acclaimed in her field of organization, community development and coaching, and is a leader in Appreciative inquiry not only in Canada, but globallycome up for air - Mo McKenna.

In this show, Mo shares stories about how she started in this field, where it’s taken her and where she’s headed, living to her strengths of curiosity and openness daily.  Mo has worked in just about all sectors: corporate, government agencies in education and healthcare.  Mo shares many of her inspirations in the links section below.  

Episode Background

I was keen to interview Mo Mckenna, as in my last few shows, her name kept entering into the conversation.  She was praised by Deacon Richard Manley-Tannis,as his mentor, episode PS 65 How an Intimate Conversation can Strengthen the Collective.  The show preceeding this one,  PS 70, Say Yes to Everything Results in Fun and Meaning with Wick van der Vaart from the Netherlands refers to Mo as great asset to AI Practitioner and an inspiration.  

Fortuitously, Mo and I finally met in person a couple of months ago in Cleveland, OH at Case Western Reserve University. We were co-facilitators at the Fourth Global Forum  – also a podcast episode – Ps68, Business leaders, Professors and Students Expose Flourishing Enterprises  

And it doesn’t stop there.  These synchronicities keep amplifying. We are both members of the Council of Practice with the David L.Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain college in Burlington VT. in the capacity of Field Practitioners.

Come up for Air

come up for air - framework

Mo is highly creative and innovative.  One of her creations is the AIR framework.  As she tells a story of its successful application in a hospital setting, I see it as framework for a conversation that guides people to a mutual appreciation of their past and helps them envision and plan an ideal future. The relational aspect of this framework facilitates understanding and generates new energy that is akin to when you come up for air and feel a huge relief, especially if you’ve felt silenced, misunderstood or not acknowledged for too long.

Concepts we Explore in this Episode

Appreciative Inquiry High Point Experience

In following the structure of an Appreciative Inquiry interview, I invite Mo to tell a high point story when she was fully engaged and delighted with her work.  She tells the story of working with The Toronto District School Board (TDSB).  It’s a terrific example of applying AI in a large system that invited all stakeholders to inquiry into “Student Success” while providing the Board members the opportunity to work on a real issue of strategic importance and learn about the process of AI at the same time.

High Performing Teams

Mo's own story harking back to her days at Xerox, and her reference to a study by Google finds that psychological safety is an enabler of high performing teams.  With Appreciative Inquiry, we invest time up front on inquiry – we don’t go straight to task.  We go back and learn from the past and get to know each other more deeply, becoming aware of each other’s needs.  That relational process creates psychological safety.

Learning Partners

We talk about the difference between being an “expert” and a “learning partner.”  As an outsider to a client system, we come in to be a learning partner, not an expert consultant. The client system has the expertise which is local knowledge of their own context and content.  We, as outsiders come with a process and a structure to guide the client to outcomes they want to accomplish.

Leadership Rises Up  from the Quiet Corners of an Organization

Mo and I share examples of how Appreciative Inquiry brings out the leadership is us all.  The psychological safety that an appreciative inquiry provides opens people up to each other's stories to listen more deeply, trust more openly and take risks.  People are encouraged to be more courageous, and Mo quotes her mentor, Jane Magruder Watkins:

You do no harm asking for what's working.

Links to Other Resources Mentioned in this Show

The newly designed, Appreciative Inquiry Commons

New York Times Article, What Google Learned from its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

Bliss Brown Seminal Appreciative Inquiry Summit, Imagine Chicago 

Professor Amy Edmondson TEDx Talk, Building a psychologically safe workplace

Gervase Bushe Article,  Appreciative Inquiry with Teams

Angela Ahrendts TEDx Talk, The Power of Human Energy

“Passionate, positive human energy can provide a counterbalance to the disruptive negative forces of an age of unprecedented change. Through it comes confidence, inspiration and the power to transform things for the better.”  

Connect with Mo McKenna

Mo’s website





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When You Do Good, You Feel Good

A story of how you can do good.  The CEO of a multimillion dollar company was in the office building elevator going down to lunch from his executive suite on level 77. Several floors down three employees stepped into the same elevator all very engaged in a conversation. They paid no attention to him – the CEO – standing in the elevator.

As the elevator door closed with its three new occupants, he quickly became aware, their conversation was a series of complaints and grievances about the company of which he was CEO and founder.

Airing Grievances in Public

This company had become a global company through a number of recent mergers, and the three employees in the elevator were complaining about workloads, their bosses, slow systems, impossible volume of work and complaining customers.

They were airing their grievances in a public place without consideration of who else was listening, or even paying attention to who else might be in the elevator with them.

When the elevator reached the the ground floor, the CEO stepped forward to introduce himself, and express concerns that their experiences were very upsetting to him.  He stressed  he wanted to hear more of their experiences.  He asked them to reach out to his assistant and get  on his calendar that afternoon.

From your own world view, how do you think this story might continue?  From your own experience, if this had been you in the elevator and your CEO had been standing at the back, how might this story continue in your organization?

Being in Service – Tea and Much More

Here’s what happened. They arrived in his office a few hours later.  He welcomed them to his office and served tea.  He personally served tea.  He was was a gracious host and was comfortable welcoming everyone into his executive suite.

  • He said how grateful to hear their reality – how they were experiencing this challenging situation.
  • He appreciated the differences that everyone brings to a situation – they are not all the same.
  • He saw the value in understanding their perspectives.
  • He admitted shock and he admitted he partly owned it.
  • He sought their and every employee's ownership in taking up their part in shaping the culture of the organization.
  • He said he needed them and every member of the organization to be part of a future that he saw and knew could happen.
  • He promised to address their concerns and sought their commitment in making positive changes happen.

Do Good – Model What you Want to See

He acted immediately.  He took full responsibility and realized it was time to re-focus and align the corporate culture after such a number of mergers and acquisitions.  

Those three employees left the CEO’s office that day so grateful and relieved that their leader had been open to hear their stories.  They were converted to fans and they wanted to do the best they could to support the changes they themselves wanted, and now had the commitment of the CEO to enact.

What might have happened had those three people had a different leader, who did not seek to hear their perspectives.  Imagine if they had been made to feel bad, how would that have moved toward a solution?  If the CEO had lain blame and made them feel bad, how might they have walked out of his office that afternoon?   I still wonder if they would have had belief and trust things could change for the better.

Contagion Effect of Positivity

So a key positivity strategy is when you do good, you feel good; and by extension, when you feel good, you do good.

This positive principle of one of the five foundational principles of Appreciative Inquiry.  The above example shows how how good doses of positivity have a contagion effect in an organizational culture.

Why Strengths Based Coaching Helps Overcome Weaknesses

I bet a number of you have been coached.  If so, it is likely you are into your own development.  It's also likely you are aware of coaching to strengths is very beneficial.

Coaching is about improvement, going to the next level, achieving aspirations, identifying ways to  live to your fullest capacity and potential.  Yet, a dominant, and perhaps traditional model of coaching, has been to start from a place of lack, or deficient that focuses on eliminating weaknesses.  There is this strongly held view that we need to fix the problem before we can move into the areas of development.

The Energizing Force of Strengths Based Coaching

Strengths based coaching comes from the worldview that in every system (human and otherwise) there are also many things that already work right.  Starting from what one does well already – one's strengths – is a far more energizing way to improve quickly.  You actually go from strength to strength which helps to mitigate weaknesses.  It's not to say you don't address or deal with weaknesses.  I am saying that starting from what you do well, what gives you best outcomes personally, or amplifies your organizational capabilities offers greater leverage and takes less time than investing heavily in and struggling with weaknesses.  You also have greater willingness to deal with the weaknesses once you have elevated your best assets.

Strengthen Existing Talents

Strengths based coaching starts with what’s working well already and seeks to discover your natural strengths, talents, and preferences.  You recognize there are choice points and you tend to focus on what consumes you.  Said another way: “Where the attention goes, the energy flows.”

If you’re a leader, a parent, an educator, isn’t it your responsibility to encourage the development of others in life-nurturing ways to help them find the fullest and most satisfying ways possible and strengthen their existing talents?

I'd like to illustrate with a business story that illustrates how strengths based coaching is an extremely effective way of developing people.

Develop your Strengths to Mitigate your Weaknesses

A few years ago, I was brought in to a large professional services firm to coach seven young women who were deemed “high potential”. They were in their early 30s. This firm wanted to groom more young women to be promoted to director level and possibility partner. The business reason for this investment in coaching was to stop the high attrition rate of these young, talented women leaving the firm because they saw no real career path there. Most of the senior jobs continued to be given to men.

Each of the seven young women came to her first coaching session with her “report card” (360 performance review) from her manager, ready to point out what her weaknesses were and what her manager recommended she work on.

Respectfully, I listened and looked at the document. After what I thought was an appropriate amount of time, I put the document down, looked at her, and asked one very simple, straightforward question:

“Tell me what you’re best at?”

The response I got every time was: silence.

Experience Flow

It didn't take too long for the young woman’s demeanor to change with a physiological shift, a softening in the face, a change in eye focus and gaze, and then a smile, followed by a gentle, embarrassed laugh.  Together, we began to explore what gave her greatest joy and satisfaction.  She was able to identify when she experienced a sense of flow – when time was lost – when she experienced a sense of intrinsic reward even though the situation was challenging.  What she found most rewarding was to discover that when she experienced this sense of time just passing so fluidly, she experienced her work to be far more energizing and engaging.

Increase Productivity and Joy

In the six months' coaching that followed, each young woman went through a transformation. They all completed the VIA Character Strengths survey and put their strengths work.

They reported relationships that had been challenging become easier. They felt less stressed because they invested their efforts in their strengths and found ways to manage weaknesses, meaning they become more productive and experienced more joy in their work.

They were so happy that with this new knowledge they found they were also able begin to notice the strengths of their colleagues, bosses and staff who reported to them, so they could optimize their productivity as well by assigning tasks and responsibilities that best fit their strength profiles.

Believe me, when you really know your own strengths and integrate the words and behaviors, you become far more effective in all your relationships, your own productivity and life takes on a whole new meaning.

Resilient Leadership And The FABULOUS Principle, With Barbara Rubel – PS028

Resilient Leadership And The FABULOUS Principle – Episode Overview

It is often a past loss that propels women to become innovative trailblazers, mentors, and leaders. If they are able to find solutions to deal with their losses then they can problem solve anything. To build a business, leaders have to build their resilience. Guest, Barbara Rubel shares her FABULOUS Principle, an acronym for eight core competencies that influence women entrepreneurs to grow from their experience of loss into resilient leaders.


Resilient Leadership with Barbara RubelBarbara Rubel talks about her FABULOUS Principle, and her work with women entrepreneurs and leaders to help them build their resilience.  What excites me very much about Barbara and her work is that, despite our different professional backgrounds, we are aligned  – the objectives and outcomes of what we offer are similar:  to facilitate positive change.

Barbara has a BS in psychology and a Master’s degree in thanatology, which is the study of the field of grief counselling and loss.  So from that perspective Barbara shows how we can come out stronger and triumph over adversity or loss to become more resilient.

Barbara Rubel is a keynote speaker, bestselling author and coach.

As a Leader, Know Yourself First

In a nutshell, Barbara’s approach to leadership is to focus first on yourself – start with your inner leadership.  It’s about knowing yourself, your strengths and paying attention to self-development before attempting to influence others. Self awareness comes first.

Growing From Loss, Self Compassion

From her experience as a grief counselor, Barbara teaches us that trauma and loss can be catalysts for growth. The most difficult situations facilitate opportunities for meaning making and building resilience. Loss and grief can transform the way we look at challenges.

Out of her own story of grief, bereavement and mourning, Barbara changed her life to help her overcome personal loss and tragedy.  In seeking to understand and make sense of her own grief, she proactively pursued a course of study that set her off on a career in which she has been flourishing for over 20 years.

The FABULOUS Principle

FABULOUS is an acronym that spells out the empowering capacity we have to become resilient leaders.

The key to Barbara's discovery of the FABULOUS Principle was the identification of eight core competencies that influence women entrepreneurs to grow from their experience of loss.

Listen in to hear how wonderfully Barbara explains each of these eight competencies.  She also describes her process of tapping into each of these eight core competencies. Through carefully crafted language and purposefully designed questions, you can identify how you can work with each of the eight competencies to grow in your leadership and build resilience.




UUnderstanding Job Satisfaction

L Laughter




By seeking to understand how we can build on our past successes, the FABULOUS framework allows leaders to reflect on what worked in the past to deal with adversity and positively apply that wisdom to current stressors.

Self Compassion

It seems to me that to overcome trauma, self-compassion and being kind and gentle to ourselves was the place to start (even though it's the last competency in the FABULOUS principle.)  Barbara explains how important it is to be kind to ourselves in difficult times and to win over the voices in our own heads. She mentions a number of positivity practices such as kindness, gratitude, persistence to help reconnect to our self compassion.

The framing and the questions Barbara poses to help us focus on what was helpful and productive in the past resonates with the Appreciative Inquiry world view.  It's far more resourceful to focus on how we have overcome past challenges versus dwelling on the circumstances and people that may have contributed to our grief or stuckness or loss.

Empowering Questions for Self Compassion

  • Describe a time when you showed compassion (i.e. empathetic caring awareness of another person’s difficulties along with the desire to lessen it.)
  • Summarize a time when rather than negatively appraising your situation, you focused on what you did that was productive and helpful.
  • Appraise how you generously extended loving kindness to yourself (Barbara cited her own example of  savoring a meal).
  • Thinking back on a past loss, tell a story about your self-soothing activities that helped alleviate your past personal distress.

Palette of Grief™

From her own experience, learning of her father’s suicide while she was in hospital giving birth to triplets, Barbara, a water colorist, experienced the entire turmoil and mess of her life as a swirling blend of colors.  Her insights were that grief did not present itself neatly as a series of steps, a process, or sequence of events, but as a palette of swirling emotions, thoughts, beliefs and behaviors co-mingling as water colors bleed into each other in a painting when water is spilled across the surface of the painting and the colors blend and bleed into each other.

Burnout in Professional life

In her work with professional grief workers, Barbara became aware that the grief workers themselves were burnt out; they were experiencing compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.  Barbara began to refocus her efforts to support the professional carers to keep them healthy and happy.  So she moved from working with those who were grieving to creating a space for the grief workers, like herself, to deal with stress.  She saw the value in shifting the focus from experiencing the de-energizing effects of stress in grief workers to being energized by the stress they were experiencing.  She switched to reframe stress so the grief workers could continue doing the work they loved before they were burnt out.

Do The Work That You Love

Barbara’s shift from a bereavement counselor to a speaker, specializing in overcoming stress led her to create tools and strategies that help people and leaders thrive and stay healthy so we can all do the work we love.  This is her mission today.  It’s about staying resilient in our work.

Listen to Barbara explain each of the other core competencies of FABULOUS in some detail. She provides helpful questions, stories and pearls of wisdom taken from her own story of transition.

In our conversation, we emphasize the importance of language, positive inquiry and sharing personal stories to help us find our inner strengths. True wisdom is gained in sharing our stories.  We triumph over struggles when we talk openly and make meaning together.

Questions to Build Resilience

  1. What positive themes do you continue to see woven through your story?
  2. What’s the constructive takeaway and how do you talk to yourself about your story?
  3. How does finding meaning in your narrative provide purpose in your life?
  4. What strengths kept you positive during the struggle?
  5. How can you apply what you learned during those difficulties and challenges to confident self-leadership?

As Barbara talks in detail about each of the eight core competencies of the FABULOUS Principle, you will be energized by her generous sharing and great wisdom.  When we get clarity around each one, we will experience that stress can be a great energizer.

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Links Mentioned In This Episode

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If you are seeking to receive CEUs, please purchase your copy of Death, Dying, and Bereavement from Western Schools.

Embracing Change: The App

This is a first.  A personal development app that applies Appreciative Inquiry to guide you to embrace change confidently, whenever you are called to do so.

The outcome will be to tap into your strengths, discover your personal power and energize you in ways that are fully aligned with your own authenticity and integrity.

Up until now, Appreciative Inquiry has been available only in face-2-face interview situations, and in small or large groups, and organizations all over the world. In your own privacy, and in a reflective, self-directed way,  you also can experience this empowering, strength-based approach to change.

Embracing Change

Read more

Investing in Organizations for the Greatest Return

s70_05_05_04_059611-300x203The existing paradigm of focus first on weakness is played out every day in most of our homes, our schools, our institutions, our place of work and worship.   We focus on the things that “need fixing”.   We invest energy, money, time, intellect, emotion into things that don’t work for us instead of putting energies into those things that will give us an easier and a much-amplified return for our efforts and investments.  Simply, what we focus on grows.   Read more

Positive Acts of Service

single-act-240x300Random Acts of Leadership

I have been inspired by Susan Mazza one of my Twitter Friends.  Her blog, Random Acts of Leadership has touched me at many levels.  I just contributed to Susan’s blog with my own two stories of Random Acts of Leadership.

After reading her blog, Random Acts of Leadership, I had this experience.

I was in the local supermarket car park.  As I wheeled my cart back to my car, there was a plastic water bottle lying squashed on the path.  My fleeting thoughts were judging of some irresponsible person leaving it there, as I wheeled around it.  In a flash, I thought, you don’t like it, do something – show a “random act of leadership.”  So I went back, picked it up and threw it in the trash bin.  (Unfortunately, there was no recycling bin.)

Read more