Leadership Is A Conversation

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Leadership is a conversation.  Think about it.  Just about every single thing a leader does to influence others is centered around the vehicle of a conversation.  There are leadership models, competencies, road maps, values, skills and philosophies.  If you can master the conversation, you can master leadership.

Lincoln had conversations with his staff before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.  Washington spoke with his advisors before leading his army across the Potomac.  General Lee spoke with Longstreet before attacking at Gettysburg.  Steve Jobs spoke to his leadership team before launching the iPod.  Managers speak with their teams about impending change.

Leadership is a conversation.  A leader that can effectively lead a conversation with thousands, five or one will have a greater chance for positive impact.

Leadership can be supported through email.  Leadership can be leveraged with technology.  Leadership is most powerful when the leader converses well.  Great leadership can’t be solely reliant on email.  That is not enough.  Email is a delivery vehicle for information.  It is what it is and it is NOT a conversation.  A reply to an email is just a reply.  Three replies to an email requires a conversation.

Leadership is influence.  Influence devoid of people doesn’t exist.  Leadership can be acclerated through influential conversation.

What is a conversation? A conversation is an exchange of ideas, thoughts, feelings, observations and questions that lead to an outcome. A conversation has a beginning, middle and an end.

I spoke with a CEO once and I asked “How long has it been since you had a 1:1 with your leadership team?” It had been months.  I asked how that was working for him.

Many conversations just end abruptly. Some lead to strong movement and action. Other conversations lead to the freeing of slaves or the independence of a nation.  Some conversations just help employees become better at their jobs.  Some conversations shine the light on the dark parts of our lives so that we can bring the light to others lives.

A great conversation is one in which you are honest with yourself and the person or persons you are connecting with.  A great conversation for a leader is one in which you infuse vision and hope into the person you are speaking with.  The follower leaves the conversation better than he started either through encouragement, the truth or some inspiration.  The follower leaves with some action. The follower commits to action and then that conversation is a positive one.

When people leave a conversation demoralized, it is critical that the leader recognize it or the follower recognizes it and gets back into another conversation about why. Otherwise, the message did not have good throughput and therefore the initiative and the relationship has stalled.

A great leader knows how to have a conversation that confronts when necessary and speaks the truth.  I had a friend that once asked me a tough question: “I am not really buying that you like your job.” That conversation had impact because it spurred me to action and forced me to face the truth.

How are your conversations? Are you having them frequently enough? Are your conversations too intense, too fluffy, too report focused, too much about you?  Great conversations can launch you to greatness, to impact and even change the trajectory of a strategy.

We do know this that the worst leaders are the ones that ignore their people.  We also know that if employees complain it is typically because of their immediate supervisor.

Why? Typically this is for two reasons: No developmental conversations and / or the employee feels ignored.  This stems from a leader that has made it all about furthering their own career and not the career of others.

Leadership is about conversations.  The models are ok too and the skills are certainly worth pursuing.  Just start with the conversation and go from there.  Conversations can help others feel like they are supremely valued and valuable.  This is a great place to start.