Transitioning to Senior Leadership: Allowing for Dialogue

In our last two posts we’ve focused on how to make the mindset shift from consensus or compliance (depending on your tendencies) to commitment. The first of three focus areas was to provide intentional and structured communication to help win the hearts and minds of your people. The second was explaining the Big Why.

Allow for Dialogue

Creating structured communication and explaining the “Big Why” are about making your communication intentional. Both components are important, but not sufficient. Largely because they’re a one-way focus. The third, and maybe most important, component to building commitment, is allowing for dialogue. Genuine and pure dialogue that gives people the freedom and opportunity to let you know the truth. This two-way conversation is where true interaction occurs as leaders engage people not just in formal settings, such as the All Hands meeting, but at every opportunity from the chance bump-ins to team meetings.

In a staff meeting, for example, you might let people know ahead of time that you are looking for their input so that they can come prepared. You may also mine for conflict, as Patrick Lencioni describes in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, where you literally go around the room and ask each person for their perspective. You can utilize your 1-1 Coaching Sessions with a “check-in” at the beginning of each conversation, generating a less transactional and more developmental discussion. Or, you might notice someone in the hallway and take 37 seconds to address the issue. The opportunity is to create a communication plan that utilizes multiple channels to engage people in the business and ultimately move them to a place where they know and feel like they’ve been heard.

We’ve noticed in our leadership development work, that people often go through three distinct shifts as they mature as leaders when it comes to dialogue and engaging with people.

  • At Level 1, the leader considers himself/herself the expert and wants to be seen as smart, strong, and knowledgeable. As a result, he doesn’t generally ask people for their input, but sets directives. This is the classic infallible leader.
  • At Level 2, the Leader realizes that he or she needs to get others on board with his or her particular vision. To that end, she asks people for their their input, but mostly to appease them and gain their buy in.
  • At a Level 3, a more mature level that most leaders never reach, the leader asks for peoples’ ideas. Why? Because she actually wants to hear them.

Allowing for dialogue enables you to win the hearts and minds of your people. This is the ultimate commitment, where people go above and beyond, and they mostly do it because they know they were heard and felt valued.