There was a time when a supervisor or manager would use persuasion or even coercion to get things done their way. We have come a long way since then and now understand that conversation is essential to strong leadership development.
What is Conversational Leadership?
When we used to teach management styles, it was about having a leader at the top of a pyramid, whose wishes were carried out by people on lower areas of the pyramid. Most of this carrying out was directive, meaning the leader told people what to do with the expectation it would be carried out. If employees didn’t do as directed, the consequences were negative and could include a variety of punitive actions, such as getting fired, not receiving promotions, or being denied training opportunities.
Today, that organizational model struggles to survive. Company leaders have recognized that the old-style command and control methods don’t work anymore, leading to a focus on leadership development. We now understand what it actually takes to engage people, and we know the people carrying out the work are intelligent, innovative, and valuable.
We’re operating in environments where people don’t deliver a simply manufactured item that can be counted on a spreadsheet. Today’s employees have the ability to drive success (or failure) through the culture of the organization by their attitude and through their own leadership qualities.
Conversational leadership development is part of this shift. The culture of people having conversations is a leadership strategy that encourages trust and close working relationships. It uses conversation as a way for everyone within the organization to communicate.
Designing Meaningful Conversations
Conversation between two people seems to be the easiest way to share information, but good conversations take a little more effort than you might be accustomed to in order to get results.
Meaningful conversation involves deeply reflective listening, suspending assumptions, and building shared meaning through an exchange, as opposed to an argument. Meaningful conversation also involves speaking when you feel moved to participate, rather than being required to speak as part of a social norm or an expectation.
Conversation does not include discussion, debate, persuasion, convincing, or tactics to try to change someone’s opinion.
In organizations today, we often refer to terms like key messages and wordsmithing. We often communicate through Power Point presentations, e-mail, and text messaging. However, a conversation brings us back to the practice of sharing, thinking, and creativity by communicating stories and connecting ideas together.
If you’ve heard of dialogue tools like these, they exist to help people to communicate better:
- Meeting audits
- Facilitated conference calls
- Storytelling for corporate leaders
- Accountability agreements
- Interest-based negotiations
When we create opportunities for particular kinds of communication to take place, we have an opportunity to design conversations that lead to shared meaning, deeply respectful dialogue, and effective listening.