Leadership is about conversations

Group of business people

I came upon a blog post this weekend that addressed its subject matter in a way that I found breath-taking both in its simplicity and in its clarity.

5 Qualities that Make a Good Leader in the Social Media Age by Brian Verhoeven looks at leadership innovation as discussed in the book Humanize published last year that was the subject of dialogue among the authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant and others in a panel discussion a few months ago.

What makes a good leader in your organization? was the panel’s focus. The simple answers:

  1. They provide clear direction.
  2. They use positive language when things change. They embrace change.
  3. They are transparent and share information freely.
  4. They reinforce the value of experimentation – even failure.
  5. They talk aloud sharing their rationale and understanding with the team. They leverage the expertise of others to help them solve the tough problems.

Each of these five answers – the qualities from the blog post title – is expanded upon and discussed in some detail in the post, with Verhoeven adding commentary in reporting additional insights arising from the people involved in the panel discussion.

All of these qualities won’t appear to be new or even revelatory to anyone involved in organizational communication or, indeed, organizational leadership. Yet, such fundamental behaviours too often are not practiced. And, too often, there’s no evidence that some leaders actually understand the significance of such qualities in their effectiveness as leaders and the consequent effects on the people within the organization.

One of the qualities that Verhoeven adds insight to is number 5 – “They talk aloud sharing their rationale and understanding with the team. They leverage the expertise of others to help them solve the tough problems” – reporting this insightful comment:

Leaders Leverage the Expertise of Others

Nobody in your organization expects you to have all the answers; however, they do expect you to find someone [who] does have the answer. Reggie Henry from American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) shared a powerful tip to gain insight from his staff to solve problems creatively. He simply talks to his team aloud, face-to-face, a unique approach in today’s age where email is king. For example, when ASAE was adopting a new technology platform, Reggie knew he was not an expert user, but he laid his assumptions out there for the team to hear. By talking aloud his team was able to hear his assumptions, correct them if required, or work collaboratively to solve the problem. I loved the idea of simply putting your assumptions rationale out there for your team. It reminds me of a core principle of Agile Software Development which states that the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a team is conversation.

I don’t think many people will disagree with the view that face-to-face conversation is the most powerful communication channel in organizations. Reality bites, though, in the modern business world where it’s often a method we simply can’t use as often as we’d like with geographically-dispersed employees.

Many social media tools and channels enable us to get pretty close to the power of face-to-face communication, where we can emulate the reality of it with the virtuality of the social, as it were. Think about video discussions with text chat, for example.

I’m not talking about the starched and inauthentic formality of the kind of delivered webinar-type event I’m sure we all experience (far too often, I’d day) in our workplaces. This is much more about things like the spontaneous Skype videochat or private Google+ Hangout where the informality and spontaneity, not to mention obvious two-way-discussion approach, all scream “authenticity” and belief in the genuine desire of a leader to inspire and lead by inclusion.

In any case, do read Verhoeven’s complete post for the detailed insights he shares, plus links to other related content.

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