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When talking is so much more than just words


A conversation is such a powerful yet overlooked leadership tool but choosing the right type of conversation to drive change is something many leaders seem to struggle with. In my Organisation leaders are highly intelligent achievers in their chosen careers and have participated in many different leadership programmes, making them well versed in the different theories. So it always surprises me that when they are back on the floor they all seem to be over reliant on one style of communication, which is often directive or instructional, and then come to me asking why they struggle to get any engagement, only compliance, to change from their teams. This got me thinking about how important the conversations our leaders have with their people are in translating culture into experience and just where our leadership training might be falling down. Sure we promote situational leadership and the like but in our haste (as L&D professionals) to try and illuminate leadership learning with functional models are we actual overlooking the basics, how to speak to someone? Recently we have been trying to encourage empowerment and ownership throughout the organisation to help us deal with the demands of change. Many of our leaders are failing to achieve this type of environment because their directive communication style has created a sort of learned helplessness within their team. To be a true change leader our guys need to master the art of the transformational conversation. To truly achieve success we need to start their development by ensuring that the message (the words said) and the meaning (how it is delivered) match. This will, in turn, influence the types of conversations that cascade down within their teams. Our leadership training needs to ensure we provide our leaders with the knowledge of key theories but also equip them with the fundamental tools to be able to put the models into practise and this has to start with the transformational conversation. It may seem like a small and some what obvious place to start but sometimes it is the obvious that we overlook. So it’s back to the basics for our leaders, after all if the pen is mightier than the sword then maybe the conversation might just be mightier than the leadership model.

2 Responses

  1. Keeping it Short and Simple
    Totally agree, Jaimie.

    Whilst the countless leadership models out there are based on sound theory, it is their application that often goes astray. In my experience this is down to two things;

    1.) The ‘leader’ becomes so wrapped up in the ‘theory’ that they overcomplicate and overengineer their approach, turning what should be a simple, flexible and personal interaction into a complicated process, dehumanising those involved. Net effect – they see no change in behaviour and the theory is dropped.

    2.) The pressures of the business/environment/task at hand mean that ‘leader’ doesn’t have the time (or inclination) to change their behaviour and practise making the new-fangled theory real. Net effect – the new theory is ignored and debunked as impractical and unworkable and they see no change in behaviour.

    Let’s start a KISS campaign together. By that I mean Keep It Short and Simple, please don’t think I’m wierd or anything!


  2. An offer I can’t refuse?
    Spot on Owen and I totally support the idea of Leadership with a KISS, which is more relevant than ever given the current challenging economic climate where results are everything.

    I would also add that one of the fundamental problems with leadership programmes are that they are often at odds with the reality of the Organisational culture. In the class room they are informed of current ‘good practise’ but back in the real world they operate in an environment that doesn’t support it.

    That said, however, leadership is ultimately a behavioural choice and the simplistic beauty of the conversation (using the right words at the right time) is that it allows you to establish your own leadership culture within the culture of the organisation.

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