Leadership Through Conversation

Accountability Organizational leadership


Key Point: Perhaps the most over used term and least clear word in management speak today is “communication.” Of course everyone wants to be a great communicator. Leaders are challenged to be great communicators. And when you ask people what their communication framework or model is, they often look at you like, “I don’t even know what your talking about… You know, just be a good communicator.” The following guideline can really help us improve as effective, leadership driven communicators. People really listen to communication that is INTIMATE, INTERACTIVE, INCLUSIVE, and INTENTIONAL. Read on to learn more:

Boris Groysberg is a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Michael Slind is a writer, editor, and communication consultant. They are the coauthors of Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations. They have some great research and work on leadership through conversation. Their model, which you will find at the end of this blog, will provide additional guidance.

Character Move:

  1. Be Intimate. Great conversation means finding a way to be personal and authentic. Even in large groups we can have a more personal discussion. Top-down pronouncements and being on transmit just isn’t very effective. Associates become good at taking mental vacations while sitting back looking at a monitor and/or watching us standing at a podium. We have to find ways of connecting personally. I would love to see organizations filled with real or metaphorical kitchen tables and a lot more old-fashioned “family dinner” settings.
  2. Be Interactive. It is important to have a conversation WITH colleagues and not just at them. Face-to-face is the best. Yet even with all the work mobility, workplace variety, and employees scattered everywhere, interactive tools like Yammer or others allow for more open and interactive dialogue. Blogs and discussion forums need to be common discussion tools for all of us. We can be interactive at a distance.
  3. Be Inclusive. The best way to engage others is to involve them in understanding and building the message. Everyone in the conversation has to work at it. In today’s world, informing does not necessarily mean that we’ve communicated. Dialogue means we are active with each other. How often do you see people sitting back, arms crossed while some executive is out in front trying to be profound, sweating and doing all the work as the transmitter? Everyone has to be involved in telling the company story and/or communicating the key message.
  4. Be Intentional. What is the intended outcome of your conversation? Does everyone you’re communicating with know what the expected result is? How do you know? Make sure the agenda and outcome is clear. Sometimes the communicator thinks it’s obvious. That is often not the case. Verify the target audience gets the intention. Check in with them before, during and after the conversation.

Being on transmit and exclusive top-down communication is a telling process. It is not necessarily effective communication. Email is often a lousy surrogate for communicating and a long email string is rarely representative of a great conversation. It certainly is not using conversation and dialogue as part of the leadership system. So when you’re about to send that email and/or give that big speech and think you’ve communicated, you may want to test it against the framework of an organizational conversation and supplement it accordingly.

More conversation in The Triangle,