Harvard Business Review recently published an article titled “Leadership is a Conversation” in their June 2012 edition, that discussed the waning of the traditional top-down, command-and-control approach to management.
The article cites a bunch of reasons why this model has gone by the wayside, including globalization, new technologies, and the new ways in which companies create value for and interact with customers. Today’s employees no longer respond well to blind orders. They want to think. They want to question. They want to be a part of the process. So if this directive style of leadership is now passé, what is taking its place?
Issuing orders and commands from the top has been replaced by a method of communication that is, on the one hand, much more sophisticated and powerful, but on the other hand, significantly more simple. In a nutshell, effective communication is now based on a process that is conversational.
According to the article, authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind came to this conclusion after doing research on both professional communicators and leaders at a wide variety of organizations. They found that the best leaders not only engage with employees in a manner that resembles conversations more than they do commands, they also promote a culture in which this conversational way of communicating is used throughout the organization. The benefits? By talking with employees, instead of issuing orders, leaders help their organizations realize higher levels of employee engagement, tighter strategic alignment, and increased operational flexibility.
Based on their research, Groysberg and Slind have come up with a model of leadership they call “organizational conversation.” This model is based upon honing four attributes of interpersonal conversation:
- Intimacy. Leaders must minimize the distance—in particular the emotional distance—that separates them from employees. One fosters intimacy by gaining trust, by developing good listening skills, and by presenting yourself as a “person” with foibles and areas of improvement, and not just a “boss.”
- Interactivity. By definition, conversations are the exchange of ideas and thoughts between people. Leaders can foster interactivity by talking with employees, not just to them, and by encouraging them to input their ideas, thoughts, and questions on a regular basis.
- Inclusion. The best leaders treat their employees as equal partners in the conversation, making them feel as if they are valued for their input. Inclusion allows all employees to act as brand ambassadors, storytellers, and thought leaders, in the process increasing the role they play at the organization, and ultimately their level of engagement.
- Intentionality. No matter how informal and relaxed the conversation, it should still seek to achieve a particular goal. Leaders who have mastered the art of organizational conversation know how to structure a conversation with intent.
Look around your organization. Are your leaders still issuing commands and edicts, or are they having conversations with their employees? Management by top-down commands and orders is disempowering, and creates frustration and resentment. Good leadership requires good communication, and the ability to engage honestly, openly, and effectively with employees through compelling conversation. Today’s employees are thinkers and questioners, and they don’t respond or react well to merely being told what to do. That’s a good thing. These people have immense potential, and you can tap that potential through correct communication. Are your leaders up to the task?
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