Changing the Conversation at the Top

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 meeting? 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. The 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. This is even more apparent as so many of our meeting conversations take place online and in a virtual format.

leaderIn 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 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:

  • strategy meetingActing 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;
  • managementAllowing 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 understand a given situation and to take their foot off the accelerator, when information is equivalent and interests are aligned, can make a huge difference in terms of the overall quality of the conversation, involvement of top team members and quality of the resulting decisions.

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

User Comments

There are 3 comments on this post.

  1. Great article, Scott!

    What I’d also add is that effective leaders listen more and talk less. If the leader isn’t in tune with his/her team’s dynamics in the first place, then he/she probably needs to hone their leadership skills.

  2. Great article Scott..I think it applies equally well to people who are chairing boards or committees, not just senior management or staff leadership. If you can hold back expressing your own opinion (even if you ARE convinced it’s the best opinion) but encourage and listen to others’ perspectives you not only learn a great deal; in most cases the end result is so much better than what your opinion alone would have generated!

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