Leadership is a Conversation

There was a post a while back on HBR’s Blog site that caught my eye. It was titled: Leadership is a Conversation. It attracted me because I happen to believe this is very true. I worked once with a great Plant Manager who led a high performance team that used this skill to pronounced success. He made it a point to stand by the time clock at shift changes each day and engage all the people he could. I noticed he would spend most of his day talking with team members. He rarely used email to communicate, but used face to face interactions to lead his team.

A Leader’s use of conversation is the skill of engaging those being led in a genuine interactive dialogue with emotional content. It requires the exchange of ideas and results in the influencing of the employee to action.  The classic leadership text, The Leadership Challenge, identifies the need for a leader to “listen deeply to others” (p. 118). This involves the ability to hear what is important to others and integrate it into the shared vision the leader is using to unify the team for common action. In The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, the author identifies responsiveness, reciprocity and finding common ground is critical in achieving influential conversation with team members. By the way, this is a great book I’ll be discussing later.

I believe that many of our fellow EHS & Sustainability peers are not influential as leaders. This is a threat to our profession and a missed opportunity for the organizations we work for. Only through the interactive communication of a shared vision can we achieve alignment of the people in our organizations and motivate them into action on the achievement of EHS&Sustainability improvements. That’s our mission. We have to do a better job of leading with conversation.

Make it a priority to have interactive dialog with those you lead today. Practice the skills of active listening, finding points of shared vision, and concisely communicating ideas. I had a boss once who said: “if you’re explaining, you’re losing…” His point is: the concept you are communicating needs to be pretty easy for your listener to pick up. You want them thinking about how to do it, not what it is. Intimacy is part of the communication process. Intimacy sets the stage for trust to develop. The team member knows when you have let your guard down and knows this is a sign of trust from you. They will return the favor if you can align with their values.

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About Chet Brandon

I am a highly experienced Health, Safety and Environmental Professional for Fortune 500 Companies. I love the challenge of ensuring HSE excellence in process, manufacturing and other heavy industry settings. The connection of EHS to Sustainability is a fascinating subject for me. I believe that the future of industrial organizations depends on the adoption of sustainable practices.
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