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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 9, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Steering Toward Success
Studies show that drivers who crane to look at an
turn their cars toward the wreck. This is an example of actions going
where the brain leads, says
who advocates Appreciative Inquiry, a way of improving personal and
business results by focusing on the positive — rather than on
McNeal speaks on "Appreciative Inquiry: Focusing on What
on Tuesday, October 15, at 4 p.m. at a meeting of the American Society
for Training and Development at Summerfield Suites. Cost: $40. Call
McNeal grew up in Bryn Mawr. The oldest of four sisters in a family
that encouraged positive results through education, she recently
her 20th reunion at Princeton University, which she entered at age
16. The daughter of two physicians, now retired, McNeal’s understated
manner and soft voice give little hint of the drive within.
"I was the first African American president of the Cloister Inn
(a Princeton University eating club)," McNeal says. At the same
time, in addition to studying for her degree in American History,
McNeal, all of 18 at the time, ran a start-up business, which supplied
students to work at parties.
Upon graduation she accepted a management training slot with Smith
Kline, discovered it was sales and human resources that interested
her the most, and moved on to FMC, where she sold industrial
One day, out on a sales call, she broke her ankle in enough places
to put her of commission for weeks.
While recuperating, she spent some time thinking about her career.
"I was young," she recalls with a laugh, "I thought `I
know it all; I’ve had two jobs. Let me see what else I can
She took some computer courses, and started a computer training
which she ran for eight years at a time when navigating by mouse was
foreign to office-bound America. Clients included the City of
and PNC bank. As desk jockeys got up to speed on bits and bytes, she
saw the need for small group training begin to go away, and accepted
consulting work, and then a full-time job, in human resources with
PNC, specializing in leadership training.
PNC was constantly restructuring during her time there. Looking at
the positive side, she says, "I had a lot of opportunity to learn
how corporations develop."
After a little over four years with PNC, and just six months short
of vesting, McNeal was restructured out of a job. Next step: back
to entrepreneurship. After taking a few months off, McNeal founded
HR Energy (www.hrenergy.com) in August, 2001. Her goal is to work
with groups and individuals to achieve "significant business
The framework for her coaching, Appreciative Inquiry, is "the
art of helping systems create images of their most desired
Rather than emphasizing problems to be solved, it encourages
on success. There are four steps to personal or organizational
through Appreciative Inquiry:
for a job. Using questions, he would look at where he is, tally his
strengths, and focus on what has worked for him in the past. In
with individuals, McNeal often corresponds by E-mail prior to a first
coaching session, asking questions designed to elicit responses that
will "reframe" the situation.
Maybe the laid-off worker could think of the last time he was faced
with change — maybe when he moved to a new home. How did he handle
that? Acquiring and moving into a new home requires research, the
help of experts (real estate agents, lawyers, home inspectors),
skills, and, often, the recruiting of friends to help with heavy
"Focus on strengths," says McNeal, "on how you handled
a situation well."
says McNeal. After figuring out where you are, what strengths you
bring to the situation, and what gaps in your strengths need to be
filled, sit back and imagine the best of all possible outcomes.
the best of all possible situations, draws a map for getting there.
"Sketch out internal and external factors for making the dream
come true," advises McNeal. This is the nitty gritty stage, the
one where a strategy takes form.
and clutching a plan, the job seeker is now set to steer himself into
an excellent position.
Job seekers, career changers, executives interested in improving their
performance, teams, departments, and whole companies, all can benefit
from dropping the word "problem" and replacing it with
about where they want to be, and an unwavering concentration on that
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