Conversational Leadership

What is leadership?

What is leadership?

‘When is a book not a book? When it is a conversation! ‘

Like many of my jokes, this one might seem like it doesn’t make a lot of sense and isn’t particularly funny unless you happen to be a small child who doesn’t really understand jokes. 

The problem with books

Though, it does sum up my biggest problem with the majority of business and self-help books. In a book, the writer makes an assertion or communicates an idea, and it’s generally at that point when I want to ask a question. It could be seeking clarification or justification on what has just been said. But you can’t ask questions in books, at least you can’t really expect a direct answer. You just have to hope that the writer has thought about what your problem might be. Or that their thought processes have been similar to yours. Often for me though this isn’t the case or it doesn’t do it until four chapters later. 

A conversation, on the other hand, allows you to ask questions, to interrupt. Hopefully, with the aim of better understanding what the other person is trying to say. It enables us to go back and forth on a subject, to build upon what the other person is saying. Furthermore, if we accept that no one person has the right answer, we can all contribute to working towards having a better understanding of the concept or idea. 

Which leads me to my other problem with these kinds of books, and it comes from the fundamental premise of why people write books. Generally, people write a book on a subject because they want to position themselves as an authority on a topic. They know the answer, and you should listen to them because they are the expert. They do this because it can be an effective way of marketing yourself and building a business. They’re not actually interested in what the right answer is or if there even is a correct answer. They are trying to put themselves in that position of authority and you in a place of need. This may be fine when there are simple, right and wrong ideas that you are talking about. So many books though deal with opinions and beliefs and where there isn’t a right or wrong answer. All there is are the ideas that the writer is trying to communicate. 

So, unlike most consultants or coaches, I don’t want to write a book, or preferably I do, but I don’t want to write it in the usual way. I don’t want to just tell you what I think and all the reasons why you should listen to me as an expert on the subject. What I want to do is for us to write and edit a book together, sharing our ideas, thoughts and questions as we go along. (Don’t ask me about writing credits or royalties as this stage because I don’t know and as this will probably never be published, so it’s not really important)

Now you might just think that this sounds a lot like a blog, but for me, there is a fundamental difference. This isn’t an infinite work that has no end or objective beyond the self-obsessed ‘look at me’ of many people’s blogs. This is a process by which we can travel together in search of a better understanding of a subject, a topic that can have an enormous impact on us all. We may not get to a definitive answer, but we will get closer than we have before. 

What’s it all about?

Therefore, having talked about the mechanism for us co-writing this book, we should probably talk about the subject of the book. 

If you were to ask a hundred people what is the main problem with any organisation or situation, you might get a hundred different answers. But, if you were to drill down, I am sure that you would get to one of two things; leadership and/or communication. So, in this book, I want to have a conversation with you about leadership, and I’m relatively sure that as we do, we’ll spend a fair amount of time talking about communication as well. 

So where do you start on a subject that already has thousands of books written about it? Well, one thing that amazes me about most leadership books that I’ve read is how few of them actually define what leadership actually is. Most books on leadership start with the premise that you are a leader, that you are in a position of authority or control within an organisation. They don’t define what a leader is because they begin with the assumption that you already are one and you just want to improve. The issue with this is that we can all point to people who have been in positions of authority who are not leaders and equally, we can name people who have had no power but are clearly effective leaders. Therefore, if neither of these is necessary to display leadership, then we should ask ourselves what is?

I’ve got a few ideas on what I think leadership is all about, and I even have my own definition, but before I talk about what I believe I would be interested in what you think. How would you define leadership? Who epitomises leadership for you? In your experience, what are the characteristics that you see effective leadership displaying?

Please leave your comments below, and I will try to build them into the conversation. I’m not big on rules, but there are a few that I think we should abide by if we want this process to work.

  1. Be kind to others, and what they are saying. It’s ok to disagree, but you don’t have to be a dick about it.
  2. Try and stick to the topic that we’re discussing.
  3. If you don’t understand then ask. That’s kind of the point of doing it this way.
  4. Don’t promote yourself or your stuff. You’ll just annoy people which I guess is the opposite of what you want.

Right Conversation

Having the right conversation is more important than getting the outcome you want

Having the right conversation is more important than getting the outcome you want.

Your first thought might be that this is a load of rubbish, surely nothing is more important than getting the outcome you want. If you get what you want from a situation, then it doesn’t really matter whether you have the right conversation or even how you get there, as long as you get there. Unfortunately too many people think this way and in the end, it means that they have to work harder and longer to achieve the success they want.

So what do I mean, well let’s look at the options:

The wrong conversation but not getting what you want

The first combination is clearly not working for anyone. If you’re not getting what you want and you’re not having good conversations with people, then you are wasting everybody’s time. Every time you find yourself in this situation, not only are you going to be frustrated, you’ll also risk damaging your reputation and the options you have to grow your business in the long run. You’ll waste time, effort and money having the same conversation over and over again with people without ever really growing your business. The most that you can hope for from a conversation like this is to learn not to have it again.

The wrong conversation but getting what you want

Now you might think this is better, it’s a shame the conversation didn’t go well but you got what to you wanted so that’s all that matters, right? The problem is that this is a short-term result, you might make the sale or get your employee to do what you want but it won’t lead to customer or employee loyalty in the long run. If you use tricks or worse deception to get the outcome that you want, it will always backfire on you in the end. Even if you are totally honest and upfront, you’ll still only get the short term result and not the long term relationship. The big risk with this type of conversation is that you never learn to have any other kind of conversation and you will keep going until you run out of people to talk to. You can make money this way but you will never reach your full potential.

Having the Right Conversation

I’ll deal with the last two options as one because if you actually have the right conversation your idea of what the outcome should be at the beginning might be very different at the end. I believe that it’s only by having the right conversation in the first place that you can truly know what it is that you might want at the end.

Take for example a sales conversation with a potential customer, they might seem like a great match but when you have the right conversation you realise that it will end up being a disaster. Maybe they have unreasonable expectations, they haggle over every detail of your price and service, they’re likely to keep coming back with corrections and changes. Eventually, you end up with a customer who is much more trouble than they are worth. If you hadn’t had the right conversation, if you had just rushed to get the outcome you wanted, the quick sale might have ended up causing problems in your business.

Another alternative is that you ask an employee to do something, to change a process or respond to a piece of work. If you have the right conversation with them they may come up a better alternative, they might have an idea that you haven’t thought of. They might not do what you want but they will do something better, something that gets you better results in the end. If you don’t take the time to have the right conversation you may get what you want, it just won’t be as good as you could’ve had. Worse than that you don’t build employee engagement and loyalty.

Sometimes getting what you want means that you get stuck in a situation that you regret later or worse you miss out on an opportunity that is better than you could have imagined in the beginning. Sometimes getting what you want can be overrated. Having the right conversation might not always get you what you want but it will give you the right outcome, the outcome that can help you achieve the right kind of growth in your business, but that’s a different conversation.

So, if you want to know what a right conversation is, then check out some of my other posts or get in touch for a chat.