Leadership and Conversations

January 21, 2013 -- Sal Silvester

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review, Leadership is a Conversation, by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind. As of June 2012 Boris and Michael had spoken to over 150 people in 100 companies where research participants consistently mentioned their efforts of "having a conversation" or "advancing the conversation" in their organizations.

I agree that Leadership, in part, really is a conversation. And I have also found that leaders who struggle most fail to engage people through conversation. Often times they:

  • lead by email from the comfort of their keyboard instead of in person
  • fix others' problems that others should be fixing for themselves
  • communicate a vision once at an All-hands meeting instead of on a daily basis
  • fail to involve others in goal setting and feedback discussions

None of these behaviors result in team member commitment. But, two-way conversations do.

The article Leading is a Conversation addresses four essential attributes of interpersonal conversation: Intimacy, Interactivity, Inclusion, and Intentionality. While these attributes seem like common sense, they aren't always common practice. And, I believe the most difficult of the four "I's" is Intimacy. This sounds a lot like Patrick Lencioni's concept of "vulnerability" or "getting naked" in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and his other works. When a leader is vulnerable first, or shows conversational intimacy first, others are more likely to trust and participate in conversations that matter.

So, what are some ways you can engage, inspire, and interact with your people that look more like a conversation? 

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