When I first heard the view that leadership in its everyday form actually happens during conversations, it struck me as particularly profound insight. My pre-existing idea of leadership was that it was of a more grandiose nature: emphatic expressions of bravery, surety and similar bold acts! Upon reflection, I realised that in practice leadership only actually happens when you talk to people. It’s remarkably simple in its expression.
It begged the question: “How well do I show up in conversations”?
Leadership in its most complex form can involve the following:
- Influencing people so that they are moved to follow you in a certain direction.
- Navigating pressurized situations so damage is avoided.
- Forming clear insights out of a murky set of facts.
Generally, the above scenarios don’t play out on formal stages. They happen in EXCO situations, in mentoring conversations, in reviews, in taxis on the way to airports, at dinners during offsites, and on flights. They are situations where leaders might not necessarily hold rank or where they might not ‘have the platform’, so to speak. They require guile, presence, persuasiveness, deep listening, empathy and tactical nous.
These are not easily won skills. They require leaders to be students of the art of conversation.
There is so much more happening in a conversation than meets the eye. In fact, more is happening that can’t be seen, than what is visible.
Here are a few leadership-related pointers to bear in mind when it comes to having conversations:
- Your character – the very essence of you – shows up in what you say and how you say it, so don’t think it’s an opportunity to take a breather.
- It’s likely that saying less is more powerful than saying a lot.
- Generally people will be won over if you are able to fully connect with their reality, regardless of your view of that reality; so look them in the eye, open your heart and summon your fullest empathy. That will usually be enough.
- Stay ‘big’. If you get drawn into pettiness, detail and meaningless minutiae, you’ve lost the high ground and, with that, your power.
- You have buttons and they will be pushed in conversation more than anywhere. Be mindful of these frailties being on display and know that you are being noticed.
So the chief learning here is that the notion of conversation, which might seem trivial, is actually not. One of your major leverage points in your own leadership actually lies in the day-to-day exchanges you have with your people.