Conversations, the heart of leadership

Conversations are at the core of what leaders do. Thoughtful, constructive conversations around questions that matter are the heart of leadership--which makes possible the other business processes needed to create positive results. It’s through conversation that you can discover who cares about what, and who will take responsibility for next steps. 

The power of conversation

I’m sure at one time or another you have experienced a conversation that has had a powerful impact on you. Maybe it has given you new insight, or help you see a problem in a radically different light. I call this a transformative conversation.

Whenever I facilitate a meeting based on this kind of transformative conversation, I invite reflection at the end of the process and pose the following questions to the participants: How was this transformative conversation different from the daily exchanges you experience at work? What made it so powerful?

While every experience is unique, common themes I have heard include:

  • “There was a sense of mutual trust and respect between us.”
  • “We took time to listen and think before answering.”
  • “We were willing to wait before speaking, helping us to see the diversity of thought not as a threat, but as an ally.”
  • “What I said was accepted, not judged by the others in the conversation, even if they did not agree with me.”
  • “The conversation helped strengthen our relationship.”
  • “We explored questions that mattered in an open, fun and different way.”
  • “We developed shared meaning together that we could not have imagined before.”
  • “I learned something new or important about others and myself.”
  • “It showed us how effective we can actually be.”
  • “We felt more committed to the plans and actions that were born here.”

Unfortunately, many organizational cultures see conversations as a waste of time because it takes away time from "more important work." In actuality, a transformative conversation spurs action. It’s through conversation that you can discover who cares about what, and who will take responsibility for next steps. It’s through conversation that requests are initiated and commitments made. It’s through conversation that relationships are developed and trust is gained.

Fernando Flores, philosopher, former Chilean minister of finance, former political prisoner under Augusto Pinochet's rule, and now highly respected business consultant, believes the world needs more executives who speak and act with intention. He says that “an organization’s results are determined through webs of human commitments, born in webs of human conversations.” He also says: “Speak with intention, and your actions take on new purpose.”

I totally agree with Flores when he says that all action is based on conversation. For him communication, truth, and trust are at the heart of power, and therefore, at the heart of leadership.

Remember. . .

Conversations have the power to transform and to create trust. Spark conversations in order to get to work!