‘Leadership is a contact sport’.
To lead means to engage, to talk, the debate, to steer, to manage, to placate.
All of that happens in conversations, and so it stands to reason that knowing how to architect a leadership conversation really matters. It’s an easily-dismissed point, however. After all, talking is natural and many leaders don’t feel that it requires a particular skill or more than a cursory focus.
But not if you believe in the craft of leadership; where every word uttered, every email sent, every offsite held is an opportunity to shape people and their behaviours.
Here’s my take on what a great leadership conversation looks like:
- Settle people in so that their thinking is grounded, their nervous systems are placated and their thoughts are deliberate.
- Provide careful framing as to what is being discussed or decided. Be clear about what’s not on the table.
- Position the issue carefully, so that all important aspects of the conversation are understood (note: give yourself permission to be prescriptive here – you, as the CEO, have a far broader perspective than they do).
- Open it up for various points of view to surface. Listen for long periods of time so that the conversation evolves and you become more clear on the full range of perspectives.
- Share your summary observations about what is being said, what isn’t being said, and the choices that are available to make.
- Make a choice and communicate it fully, being clear about why you’ve chosen this direction and what the full implications are.
- Check for alignment, and name where you feel alignment isn’t there.
- Be clear about the next steps, who is responsible for which actions, and by when.
- Close the conversation so that everyone feels ‘complete and ready’ to move on to other things.
Once you appreciate how important and nuanced conversations are, it will open up a whole world of opportunities for you to express your leadership craft. The thoughts a CEO shares carry heavy, heavy weight and you want to be ultra-careful about giving conversations the attention they deserve.
Consider conversation to be a performance. That elevates them to the place they deserve to be.