Quality Leadership Conversations
Quality Leadership Conversations
By Shannon Lee (she/her)
Executive Director, Leadership Columbus
When I ask folks, “What is your biggest challenge in managing your team(s)?” the most common answer is communication.
We’ve all heard the sayings about communication. Here are a few common ones in meme form:
Information, or the what of communication, abounds. So why does the art of communicating at work remain such a huge challenge?
I believe the two most significant barriers to effective communication are:
- Lack of knowledge about individuals on the team
- Lack of structure for having high-quality conversations within teams
KNOWING YOUR TEAM
Knowing our teammates is essential to effective communication. And I’m not just referring to knowing and understanding their role on the team, but knowing and understanding them as human beings.
Every one of us possesses specific natural drives. Those drives create needs in every area of our life, including work. Our needs are what inspire behavior. The fact that we have drives and needs does not mean we don’t or can’t adapt our behavior despite our drives or needs. Still, it does mean that generally speaking, those needs are greatly influencing what behaviors we do without thinking. Socialization and conditioning have taught each of us differently, which of those needs to act on and how.
According to the Predictive Index Assessment, we all have four basic drives:
- Dominance: How collaborative or independent we are
- Extraversion: If we process internally or externally; the extent to which we are energized or drained by interactions with others
- Patience: How quickly we prefer to get things done; the need for a steady vs. driving pace.
- Formality: Do we prefer a lot or a little structure? How much do we like rules vs. winging it?
I like to use the Predictive Index as a tool to understand myself better, the individuals on my team, and our team dynamics. Of course, the Predictive Index is not the only tool to provide such data. Still, it’s one of the most prominent, most widely used tools globally, with tons of research to back up the efficacy of their validated results. (If you are interested in a free Predictive Index for your team, I can help! Email me at email@example.com.)
Regardless of what tool you use, gathering data is one of the ways to increase knowledge about your team. Data collection is supremely important because understanding drives, needs, and behaviors, can help everyone suspend judgment and see behaviors for what they are: a response to a need. And sometimes, a response to an unmet need.
We can look at teammates and address behavior from a neutral space with this mindset. Starting from a neutral space removes (as much as possible) the biased landscape of conclusions about the behavior. I believe most workplace drama stems not from the situation itself but from the meaning and conclusions we make about the problem (a separate blog post). Conclusions and assumptions around behavior in the workplace can lead to a lack of equity for all and are not helpful for a couple of reasons.
First, conclusions rely on the history, background, experiences, and emotional make-up of the person making the conclusion. For this reason, they are unreliable, as one’s own biases may heavily influence the conclusion.
Second, conclusions prevent us from addressing the actual issues at hand. When we focus on conclusions about a person versus their actual behavior, we subconsciously create solutions focused on eliminating the conclusion. As a result, we will spend little to no time solving the undesirable behavior.
“My teammate is repeatedly turning in written documents full of errors and omissions. I’ve talked to them several times about this situation. Because it keeps happening, they must be insubordinate, uncaring, and disrespectful.”
Notice the conclusions versus the behavior.
Conclusions: insubordinate, uncaring, disrespectful
Behaviors: Repeatedly turning in written documents with errors and omissions, even after reminders.
Most folks talk about the conclusions (which are probably causing an emotional response, fueling the conversation) and then begin to solve those issues. The conversation may sound like this: “I don’t understand why they are being so disrespectful and uncaring about their work output. Their attitude is a repeated issue, and we need to figure out how to stop this disrespect.”
Drawing conclusions wastes time by creating drama and moves nothing forward toward improving behavior. Sure, you can talk to the team member and share your conclusion; but this choice runs the risk of putting the team member in a place of defense and even shame. Neither of those places is a healthy starting point for behavior change.
If we want to help folks learn and grow, we must also understand that how and what we communicate impacts their desire (or lack thereof) to make a change. I have found that removing the conclusion and focusing on the behavior is the key to wasting less time and increasing quality conversations. But there is another roadblock for leaders: having a structure for discussions around a need for changed behavior.
STRUCTURE FOR QUALITY CONVERSATIONS
I’ve used a structure for quality conversations at work for several years now, and I have to say, I love it. I did not create this structure; I learned it as a part of my training to become certified to teach Situational Leadership (SLII) through the Ken Blanchard Companies. This structure is, in many ways, the tactical approach to servant leadership.
The structure SLII recommends is based on a 4-part model that I’ll explain below. Those four parts are: Connect, Align, Learn, and Reconnect.
Here’s a breakdown of that conversation structure. For this example, we will assume the person you are talking with is new to a task or goal. The conversation changes depending on those items:
This process is very prescriptive and may seem time-consuming. Still, in my experience, this structure creates a high-quality conversation that saves lots of time further down the road. Of course, communication is a challenge, but a solid communication process can take a team from surviving to thriving with effort and intentionality.
If you are struggling with communication, we can help. Both Predictive Index and SLII are programs we endorse. We’d be happy to chat with anyone interested in these tools. All you need to do is reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.