“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Maya Angelou
Conversation is a connection, a means to inspire, engage, share, and learn. It brings focus to our daily interactions.
Inspiring others requires more than just one conversation. Allowing employees to have a voice will elicit them to engage. Engagement will result in greater effort, which will drive individual performance, and subsequently, initiate organizational collaboration.
Leaders speak in such a way that encourages others to truly listen. This mutual level of respect and communication is the foundation of leadership-level conversation.
One of the most common reasons leaders fail to be respected and are perceived to be ineffective is their inability to cogently communicate. Communication goes beyond just sharing information.
When a leader communicates effectively, a connection and synergy drives people into action. People feel the momentum that the leader brings through their vision for a better future. A synchronicity is created that opens the way for an entire team to work toward a higher goal.
The ability to speak is not the same thing as communicating and connecting with people. How many times have you heard someone just talk on and on, but at the end of the conversation, you felt the person just wanted to hear themselves talk?
Leadership, in general, is about connecting with people, and communicating effectively takes effort and humility. Leaders must ask themselves, “Is my message about me or about them?” We live in a “What about me?” culture. Therefore, we easily get caught up in our own world and what matters to us. A great leader is a “people connector” who takes pleasure in seeing others blossom into their full potential.
Consistency in conversation is just as important as consistency in how we present ourselves each day. Leaders who are cautiously approached by employees so that their mood can be tested are presenting an unpredictable persona. Conversely, being a consistent leader can have a great impact on others.
Years ago, I was personally effected by how important conversation is when engaging others. I was volunteering as a mentor at a youth prison, and one day a young man asked me, “Why do you care?” I deduced that my participation was impactful and that he understood I cared; but he simply wanted to know why.
I thought about that in terms of employees in the workplace. When employees know their leaders care, the culture of the company shifts to one of loyalty and respect. This is earned one conversation at a time through words, expressions, and body language. As technology has consumed society, the art of conversation is diminished behind social media, texting, and email.
A face-to-face conversation is where we can “listen” with our eyes and be present with another person. Eye contact, a friendly smile, and an interested expression are powerful ways to let someone know that what they have to say is important, and we are making every effort to understand.
We express our interest by being present. That person is giving you their time when they are in front of you. In a meeting, a phone on the table is tantamount to the “no elbows on the table” rule we learned growing up. Just the presence of a phone blocks the full impact of completely interacting with a person and offering the gift of our full attention.
A humble leader will come out from behind his desk and meet with a person on their side, or even find a neutral environment to have a relaxed and unencumbered dialogue. Leaders in ivory towers are removed and isolated. Employees notice and appreciate a leader who is part of the team, not above the team.
Early in my career, I was asked to oversee a customer service department and build a stronger relationship-oriented system. Customer satisfaction was declining in the industry, a result of employees having very little leadership reinforcement. Knowing change is often difficult in the workplace, I was bracing for push back. Turning their perspectives and priorities around was going to be a challenge.
My first priority was earning the trust of this team so that we could be prepared to make major changes. Their buy-in to my recommendations and expectations would be absolutely necessary for our success. It was not a process that could be rushed, just as conversations take time and patience. The investment would be worth it in the end.
I spent my first day in that role listening in to customer service calls at the call center. I shared headsets with many of the department associates, moving from desk to desk to speak with each representative. To say my level of involvement surprised them is an understatement. I kept my opinions to myself during this process and just listened and observed. I made this my priority partly because I wanted to know what customers were saying, but also to make a statement to the staff and earn their trust.
Without trust, it is very unlikely a leader has the ability to learn the truth about what is really transpiring within the organization. Without trust, employees will not be honest with you, leaving you blind to the core issues.
While this process may have made some uncomfortable in the beginning, they soon realized that I was not there to criticize but to learn and understand. I was willing to spend whatever time was needed to make us all successful.
That experience taught me that when employees know you care, they will perform in leaps and bounds. I have applied that approach many times in my career, but most importantly and effectively through daily conversations. The listening-learning dialogue is the most powerful tool in a leader’s box. It’s the catalyst for everything else.