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Leadership: Three Best Practices in Using Conversations to Create Value

How can creating effective conversations make you a more powerful leader?

To be a better leader starts with effective conversations. As a leader, having an exceptional conversation begins with mindful listening, allowing people to engage authentically, and holding the space for collaboration. Here are some best practices we’d like to share.

1. Active Listening Enables You to Be Attuned to Others’ Responses
“Listen to those you lead,” says Bob Sutton, who recently spoke at Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Lecture Series. When you listen in a mindful and attentive way, you can pick up on cues in body language even if you’re just listening and you can’t see someone. Active listening matters because “when people are in positions of authority over others…the people whom you lead watch your every move very closely,” as Sutton notes.

Active or mindful listening is when you are completely focused on what the speaker in the conversation is saying. You focus like a laser beam, are absorbing all of the words and nuances of their speech. You listen to their pauses between words. You listen to their tone of voice and how they are saying what they are saying. You notice the subtlety between the words and the emotion underneath them.

With this level of attention to listening, you can be a more effective leader. When you are an active listener, you can be “in tune with how others are responding” – which is a core job responsibility of a leader.

2. Engaging People Authentically Helps Stakeholders Understand You Better
Leaders who authentically engage with their employees, shareholders, customers and other stakeholders create business value in several ways, as noted in a recent Harvard Business Review article on business transparency. The main ways are by recruiting better talent, employee retention, as well as attracting customers.

As Dorie Clark writes in HBR: “Employees, customers, and shareholders need to understand your vision, your values, and your approach. That doesn’t mean putting on an aura of mystique, because if it’s not coming naturally, people can see through it. Instead, the new leadership imperative is to make yourself known..Customers, being human, also like to form relationships with real people, not just faceless organizations.”

How can you effectively engage people as a corporate leader? Truly engaging people begins with active listening, and being authentically interested in what someone has to say. Authentic engagement is also not about control, it’s about inspiring others to take action as a result of your words. Being authentic in your communications also means being attuned to how you make others feel – not just the content of the message.

3. Great Leaders Enable Collaboration by Creating Environments that Inspire Trust
What is the difference between management and leadership? As an eponymous article in the Wall Street Journal points out, “…the leader inspires trust.”

As a leader, to enable collaboration, start with being authentically yourself – then you will naturally invite others in the conversation to bring their “best self” to the table. When other people feel safe to be themselves, teams can collaborate better.

As a corporate leader, when you can relax and be an active listener, to be present with whatever is happening – even if a colleague disagrees with you – that presence is tangible. Platforms that engage your audience by letting them listen to each other (e.g. in breakout groups) will set the stage for building meaningful collaborations between your audience.

For more on inspiring trust and creating a safe environment for conversations, we also recommend the book Crucial Conversations.


How have conversations shaped your experience as a leader? We invite you to share your thoughts in the comments.

Written by Gina Maria Mele, M.S., Editor-in-Chief, MaestroConference August 27, 2014

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