Have you noticed how many people are talking about the importance of conversation in organisations today?

It came up again at an IABC event last week. Kevin Murray, who wrote ‘The Language of Leaders’, talked about the need for leaders to inspire not through speeches and “podium moments” but through intimate conversations.

I think that given the pace of change, uncertainty, complexity and the transparency that all organisations face today, we have to start using ongoing conversations as ways of engaging people.

We need tools like Big Pictures, strategy maps, learning maps, online discussion forums, facilitated events and conferences. And we need to develop conversational leadership within organisations.

So what does that look like? I think it means leaders and managers who have clarity around vision and who get up on a regular basis and walk the office or blog (internally) frequently – making it a point to talk about current events in the context of the broader strategy.

It could be regular team sessions or meetings at which the team leader reminds people of the key strategy drivers and how the team supports them. It might be ‘Listen In’ sessions where leaders and front-line people are invited and encouraged to talk about the business from their perspectives. Good conversations need empathy and open minds; it could involve training managers to welcome divergent views and help their teams to come to a convergent perspective. It also means knowing when to consult (“we have a problem without an obvious solution…”) and when not to (“we have a crisis and you need to act in this way – fast!”).

Conversational leadership means recognizing the value of conversation as an engagement approach, which means that we have to sacrifice some control in order to lead more effectively.

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