Do you want to get more meaningful conversations taking place during your top team meetings? Experience greater participation and more authentic conversations from everyone in the room? Move beyond strengthening communications skills, aligning leadership styles and leveraging personality profiles?
Some of the top leadership teams I encounter suffer from what I’d term an ‘overly active’ senior leader. This individual, regardless of title (e.g. CEO, President, Executive Director), usually demonstrates a fairly consistent style of leadership during the team’s interactions and conversations.
In many ways this consistency is both essential and helpful, but in specific situations it can be a major hindrance. Rather than tailor their style to the subject under discussion, they play their role similarly for each and every discussion. And this mostly shows up as a ‘foot on the accelerator’ approach – a need to drive the conversation forward, usually with lots of their presence in the discussion.
What’s really needed, to strengthen the conversation, is a look at the dynamics taking place around the subject under discussion. If, for example, the team members lack similar depth of knowledge about a topic and are misaligned in their interests around the issue, the leader should definitely continue with their more active style. However, if team members have similar knowledge and are generally aligned in their interests, the senior leader should take a much ‘lighter’ approach to the conversation.
As result, the senior leader’s actions would look quite different from the usual, more active, approach. The types of things we’d observe during this type of conversation include:
- Acting more as an observer than a participant, enabling others to speak more fully and freely;
- Encouraging the team members to determine the format and content of the conversation so that they can be more genuine;
- Using an informal approach to guiding the conversation rather than leading the actual discussion;
- Withholding their views in the early stage of the conversation so that alternate perspectives and potential solutions are not ‘short circuited’ before they appear;
- Allowing team members to determine how best to evaluate alternatives, without imposing their own criteria or bias;
- Encouraging others to make decisions through agreement or consensus rather than driving the group to a decision based on the member’s position, influence or perceived expertise on the topic under discussion.
The ability of senior leaders to read a given situation and to take their foot off the accelerator, when information is equivalent and interests are aligned, can make a noticeable difference in terms of the overall quality of the conversation, involvement of top team members and the resulting decisions.