In my workshops, I ask leaders and managers the question “What do you get paid to do?” I get common answers from organization to organization: uphold the vision and mission, guide the organization, grow the business, secure clients, develop strategies, set policies and procedures, inspire, coach and lead others, and on and on.
I then ask, “If I taped you being a leader and manager, and we sat down and watched the tape, what would I actually see you doing?” The answer is the same every time: talking and listening. Another way to say this is that leaders get paid to have effective conversations, conversations that produce desired outcomes.
Some powerful questions to ask yourself right now are:

  • Am I getting the results I want in one conversation?
  • Am I speaking clearly and honestly with everyone within the organization?
  • Am I really listening in the conversations that I have?
  • Are my conversations creating an environment that is inspiring people?

Perhaps most importantly, what are the missing conversations that, if I had them, would improve the results of the organization?
In his paper “Organizations, Action and Leadership,” Richard LeKander of The Newfield Network claims that organizations are actually networks of conversations and relationships, and that “action” within an organization today is primarily constituted in conversation, rather than motion.
LeKander details five distinct conversations leaders must master to positively impact the results of the organization. They are:
Conversations of Orientation: They set the context from which all actions will follow and help people establish meaning and purpose. Common examples of these are the conversations to create the vision, mission and goals of the organization, and the even more critical conversations of alignment with those ideas that must be had with everyone within the organization. Are these conversations reaching every one of your employees?
One of the most important conversations of orientation is the narrative about what the organization is and where it is headed. This invokes the mood or emotional space that inspires individuals. What is the compelling story you are championing? Can all of your employees articulate the story of your organization and their role in creating it?
Conversations of Relationship: These must take place to establish the context of how we will work together. Three specific conversations that take place here are:

  • Conversations for building authentic trust – These are about our sincerity, competency, reliability and care with respect to the way we make and keep promises to others.
  • Conversations for building dignity and respect – These allow people to decline and counter-offer the requests made to them, and the conversations that acknowledge each person’s perspective as valid.
  • Conversations for understanding and satisfaction – These set the stage for how we treat one another in the organization, often our values and core beliefs. Do we know how to listen to fully understand one another in our conversations? What are our conditions of satisfaction in the relationship?

Are you having these conversations in your organization, or just giving them lip service?
An important distinction to make about the two conversations listed above, and the three listed below is this: the first two are CONTEXT-SETTING conversations and the last three are CONTENT conversations. In other words, the first two set the “foundation” for what needs to be done day to day, and the other three deal with the actual day to day doing in the organization—both are critical!
One of the big breakdowns I see in most organizations is people don’t take enough time, before they spring into action, to have the first two conversations at the depth required for a shared understanding amongst all parties. Therefore, the foundation is too small for the actions that need to be taken, thus many unintended misunderstandings and working relationship breakdowns follow!
Conversations of Innovation: These are what we traditionally think of as brainstorming conversations. The key element we’ve ignored is the mood required to generate innovation and speculation. Effective leaders are good observers and good designers of moods.
What is the mood you are bringing to your office and actively designing in your organization?
Conversations of Implementation: These are the conversations that dictate how well we work together, or coordinate action with one another. These are the primary conversations among managers. They include requests, offers and promises, declarations of completion and satisfaction, and responsible complaints or accountability conversations.
Consider these questions: Are you making requests with clear expectations for action, clear conditions of satisfaction, and a specific time frame? Does the performer have full permission to accept, decline or counter-offer? Does the performer declare completion once a task is done? Are you declaring satisfaction when a promise is kept, or making a responsible complaint when promises are not being kept?
Conversations of Learning: These are talks we must bring to the foreground if we are truly committed to being a learning organization and to producing effective action.
The primary conversation that is missing, which prohibits powerful learning for leaders, is the conversation in which we match our results against declared standards and invite open discussion of our performance – the feedback conversation.
As a leader or manager, are you regularly asking for and allowing others to give you feedback in order to stimulate and increase your learning? Do you have a consistent practice of giving others feedback for their learning?
Take today to observe and reflect on the effectiveness of the conversations you engage in, and answer the following questions at the end of the day: Do my conversations inspire my people to committed action? What important, perhaps critical, conversations are missing here?

About the author
Mark Robertson is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), owner of Life Design, and he practices as a Professional and Personal Coach in Nashville, Tennessee. Mark has been a coach and workshop facilitator for 12 plus years, working with all levels of employees within organizations, as well as individuals and groups outside of organizations. Mark can be contacted through the Life Design website, or email: mark @ coachmark.com or by telephone in Nashville: (615) 463-8458.

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