A universal truth about a group photo is that, once it has been taken and the picture developed, the photo is only as good as each individual thinks they look. Make sense? Next time you are looking at a group photo that includes you, take note of who you look at first, as you pick up the picture. Then watch yourself pass a judgement on the entire photo, based on how good or bad you looked. Forget the fact that there were 70 other people in the photo who may have looked amazing…
Where and what we focus on is important, especially when we’re talking about the growth of people. For too long, in many parts of the world, we have embraced what can be called a ‘medical model’ when it’s come to people growth and development. The term ‘medical model’ is clearly borrowed from the medical profession, and can be simplistically understood as you consider your last visit to your local GP.
Your GP invites you to sit on her examination table and then does an exam looking for what’s wrong with you. I have never met anyone who has gone to their doctor and said, “Tell me what’s right with me, Doc. I want to know all the places I’m fantastically healthy.� No, we visit the doctor to find out what’s wrong with us, and then our doctor assists us to get the wrong made right. It is also important to highlight that your doctor is not incentivised to make you super-human in the fixing process. Your doctor spent seven years studying the average human being. Their job is to simply make you average again.
Is it not it true that we use the same paradigm in the ‘people growth and development’ space? We look for what is wrong and then we try to assist in making the wrong right. For many of us this paradigm was drilled into us at school. When I think back to my school experience, I only ever visited the principal’s office when there was something wrong. I never had a teacher that said anything close to, “Barrie I want you to go to the principal’s office and tell her what an amazing person you are!� Nope, my only visits to her office were for correction; helping me to go from ‘less than average’, back to ‘average’. Having had that model thoroughly forced into our worldview, it is little wonder that stepping into a business environment looks and feels little different when it comes to people growth and development.
All is not lost. There is a different model. There is an alternative way to look at the world and at the growth and development of people. It is a model that focuses on strengths and not weakness. It is a model that suggests that the biggest opportunity for growth is not where we are weak, but where we are most developed: our strengths. It is a model that aims to assist people to go from wherever they are on the development continuum to super-human, where possible, but certainly not settling for average.
One component of that paradigm is taking an ‘invitational approach.’ Simplistically, invitational theory suggests that everyone has the desire to survive and the desire to succeed/improve and that all people have the internal motivation to do both. Therefore, those that influence the environment have a large responsibility to build/create an inviting environment in which the internal motivation of people is freed up to survive and succeed. Placing it into an educational context helps bring some clarity. If an educator has thirty learners in his class, and two of them are struggling and the other twenty-eight are doing well, at one level the educator has failed to create an environment that has motivated two of the learners. My challenge to educators has often been, “Pick your ‘worst’ learner. Do you think that if you followed them around 24/7 that there is no place in their lives in which they aren’t motivated, self-disciplined, inspired, committed, participatory, engaged, etc?� The answer has always been that such a place must exist. The challenge, then, is when you find that place, are you able to transport it into the classroom, to unlock the learner?
Definition of the term ‘invitation’ is worth considering, namely: ‘to offer something beneficial for consideration’. A derivative of the Latin word invitare, it is literally translated as ‘to summon cordially, not to shun’. Invitational Theory is built on four assumptions:


Recognising that people are interdependent and must be involved in any process that includes them. It is the understanding that we are the highest authority on our own existence. We vote for presidents, secure our families, and provide food and shelter for them. We even stay on the correct side of the road while driving at incredibly high speeds. Why should it be different in the workplace? Why should we not give people the space to find the best way for them to participate and make the company great? Surely they understand that their own success is directly tied up in the success of the business they are working in?


All people are valuable, able and responsible and we should treat them as such. The language we use, the structures we build, the walls and fences we construct should be held up against the idea that respect is a predicator to responsibility.


People are capable of all kinds of wonderful things. They were not designed to simply be average, to be the same. We have come this far precisely because of that design. We have survived and thrived, and even though it seems that the world is falling apart around us, we have a deep hope and belief that we will get over this ‘hump’ as well. We must view each other with the optimism that we deserve, as a species that has built a great story of survival.


Intentionality speaks to the activities we engage in, the programmes we run, the conversations we have, and the words we use. Being intentional in all we do is critical to the success of creating and building an environment that invites people along the path of growth. There is possibly only one thing worse than someone who is intentionally dis-inviting, and that is a person who is unintentionally inviting. Not knowing why you are doing things is a frightening prospect, simply because if you do not know why something is going well, then you are also not going to know why it is going badly, and will have little idea of how to fix it. I would be horrified to know that the people who influence my environment are not being intentional at every turn; that if I stopped them in the middle of their day, they would not be able to account for what they are doing and why they are doing it.
These four assumptions of trust, respect, optimism and intentionality must play themselves out in every part of the environment, in the people who fill its space, the programmes we run, the policies we create and the system that holds it all together.
The challenge for those of us who have any influence over the environment of others is to create an environment that summons the motivation from the people around us, to grow and develop, to pass the average mark, and go on to become what has been built into their DNA, the desire to be successful. Can there be a greater human endeavour than that of summoning people through invitation to greater and greater heights, and then watching them fulfil their hopes and dreams?

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