Recently I read a quote from the former turnaround CEO of a huge British conglomerate: “The only thing I really do is lead conversations.”
That stopped me. The CEO in the line of fire to resuscitate a multibillion dollar company from certain bankruptcy is all about talk.
Ideas are important. But without an advocate to advance them, they remain just that—an idea. Action is important. But without an understanding of the situation, quick action only exacerbates the problem.
And so, he saw his singular role, in the midst of imminent bankruptcy, to lead effective conversations.
That got me thinking. How often do I see myself as a leader of conversation? And, more importantly, what conversations am I not leading, out of fear, denial, or just the pace of my activities?
It’s easy to spot others that don’t lead conversations well. A suggestion you offer or a question you raise is ignored. Or worse, doing so brings criticism. When you feel marginalized or invisible as a contributor, it’s a good sign that you’re in the presence of an ineffective leader.
But how can you be sure you’re not the one marginalizing others? Ask yourself these questions:
- When something important needs to get done quickly, am I to willing to involve the right people even if they might slow it down?
- Do I interact in ways that could be perceived as lobbying my interest at the expense of others?
- Do I invite people critical to my ideas to engage in a healthy exchange of views, or do I try to ignore their input or work around them?
- Is my attitude one of discovery—seeking the very best option—even it it comes from another?
- Have I demonstrated the courage to address the “elephant in the room”–the thing we’d all rather not discuss?
These questions are good to keep in mind whether around the conference table or the dinner table. Even at home, it’s easy to get into task mode leaving your spouse and children in the dark, or alternatively, to dominate the conversation through filibuster so that they can’t get a word in edgewise.
Those who marginalize others through inattentiveness in how they lead conversations run the risk of being left alone with their underdeveloped ideas. As George Carlin once said, “The reason I talk to myself is that I’m the only one whose answers I accept.”
What conversations are you not having?