Let’s start with a basic question: What do leaders do? And of all the things they do, day after day, year after year, what would you say are top on their list?
With your responses in mind, let’s review a sampling of responses I have received over the years from thousands of leaders around the globe, in all types of organizations:
• To establish strategy
• To get things done
• To build & maintain relationships
• To hire the right people
• To make sure the bus is going in the right direction
What Would a Camera See?
Back now to the question “What do leaders do?” and your list of responses. Pretend a camera is outside your office window, filming you as you’re doing what you’re doing. What would the camera actually see you doing?
With a bit of reflection, we come to this observation. A camera would see you engaging with people via talking and listening. Therefore, at the most fundamental level, leaders engage in conversations that produce desired Results and not others. This often is so close that we miss it.
Leaders are Conversational Architects
Therefore, one of my claims is that as a leader you are a Conversational Architect. You get done whatever it is that you get done by virtue of the conversations you design, convene, and lead. And how well you do this determines your effectiveness as a leader.
A story comes to mind here. A 9-year old boy accompanies his dad to work on “Take-Your-Child-To-Work-With-You” day and he’s naturally all excited. Dad is a senior VP of a major manufacturing company, and he too, is looking forward to having his son spend the day with him.
At the office, the son stays with his dad all morning, shadowing and accompanying him to meetings, being introduced to his colleagues, and being with him in his office. They go to lunch together in the cafeteria and afterward, put on hard hats and safety goggles for a tour of the factory floor in the afternoon. Then back to the office they go as the dad wraps up his day.
At dinner that night, Mom notices the little boy being a bit dejected and not nearly as talkative as she thought he’d be, given the big day he just had. “What’s wrong?” she asks. The little boy hesitates, then finally looks up at his dad through sad eyes and says “Dad, you don’t DO anything!”
What he had experienced, of course, of his dad’s role as a senior leader is the conversational nature of his job. Conversations during meetings, on the phone, over lunch, in the hallways, on the factory floor, via email, via texting.
Many of us were taught “It’s not so much what you say that’s important. It’s what you do.” Well, as leaders, a great deal of what you do is actually accomplished out of what you say, how you say it, where you say it, and when you say it – as well as what you don’t say. In other words, as a leader, your primary job is to on-purpose architect, convene and lead conversations. As a leader, you are a Conversational Architect!
I like to close this post with a wonderful quote from Judith Glasser:
“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of relationships, which depend on the quality of conversations. Everything happens through conversations.”
– Judith E. Glaser