Conversation is an important part of leadership and change as:
- Vision must be shared, before it can be lived, this requires conversation.
- Change is underpinned by conversation. Organisations change, when people change and people change one conversation at a time.
- Employee engagement is driven by meaning and purpose, this requires conversation.
- Execution requires alignment of action. this requires conversation.
Given the importance of conversations to leadership, the following principles serve as a useful guides for leaders looking to shape conversation:
- Leaders are the custodians of an organisations conversation. Conversation happens on a daily basis in within teams and organisations and much of this conversation occurs by default. By this I mean that it’s aimless and unproductive. The quality of an organisation’s conversation is the leadership’s responsibility. To effectively navigate change leaders need to be proactively engaged in focusing, shaping and influencing an organisation’s conversation. The quality of the conversation can be directly correlated with the quality of the organisation’s leadership. Using conversation deliberately means that we need to think carefully about how we will craft conversation and how we can use it purposefully.Quality conversation leads to effective decision making, engaged employees, a compelling vision and aligned execution. This requires leaders have a clear point of view about, what the organisation needs to be talking about at this time.
- Effective conversation is about meaningful inquiry. An effective conversation is always based on asking questions that matter. This means that leaders are open to multiple perspectives and view points. To explore all facets of an issue requires open questioning your primary tool. Asking not telling, using open ended questions then standing back to listen. This is the key skill of inquiry. What is the ratio between asking and telling in your daily conversations?
- Conversations shape the context in which people act. Effective leaders use conversation deliberately to shape the organisations direction. However, without a clear philosophy and vision, the shaping of the organisations conversation cannot happen. Leaders need to have a clear message that effectively sets the container in which conversations take place. A great container for conversation requires leaders be clear about the following issues:
- The organisations purpose – why it exists?
- The organisations key objectives – what it needs to achieved?
- The business model – how it makes money?
- The leadership philosophy – how people behave?
- Their goals, priorities and actions – what is most important, what should be do first?
- Language and words shape meaning. Effective leaders are very aware of the impact of their words. What a leaders does and what a leader says, are amplified and exaggerated by their constituents. Given this, if leaders don’t take charge of their words and carefully shape their messages, someone else will do it for them.
“…it’s through language that we create the world, because it is nothing until we describe it. And when we describe it, we create distinctions that govern our actions. To put it another way, we do not describe the world we see, but we see the world we describe.” – Joseph Jaworski, Synchronicity: the Inner Path of Leadership
- Build bridges and not walls. Leaders are in the business of building bridged to the future, this requires the breaking down of walls! Change will always requires the destruction of walls and the building of bridges. One of the best ways to do this in conversation is to replace “Yes, but . . .” and instead say “Yes, and . . .” When someone says something you disagree with, don’t make them wrong with “Yes, but I don’t agree with you” Rather, help them understand that you have a different point of view “Yes, and in my experience there is another way of understanding that situation.”
- Leaders selectively involve influential people in meaningful conversations. When seeking to bring about change, leaders involve influential people to help shape the message and allow them to take the necessary action to bring the message to life. This involves a very conscious choice of people, and of process that’s convened to manage the organisations the conversation. Conversation taps into our head and hearts, it taps our mind and our emotions. Inspire influential people and they will take your message to others, sparking further conversation.
- Keep the conversation focused on a few key themes. Focus the organisations attention on a few key themes, the essential drivers of performance and shapers of behaviour. Concentrate the key themes on what really matters. These themes must be simple enough to communicate effectively and be understood. They should be repeated over and over, be managed and measured so that they lead to action. Key themes need to be framed so that they capture the imagination and inspire further conversation.
Considering the above principles, how effectively are you leading your organisations conversation?