Conversational Leadership - Now or Never

Enterprises need—more than ever—leaders that understand the importance of connecting with people. Command and control is no longer a suitable way for leaders to run their organisations.

Brené Brown’s (2012) suggests that “We are hardwired for connection, curiosity and engagement. When learning and working are dehumanised – when you no longer see or encourage individuals at work, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform – we disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs from us: our talent, our ideas and our passion.” The reality is that business leaders have become obsessed with processes, performance and profits and for these reasons we’ve gradually dehumanized the workplace that Brown warns us against. The 4th Industrial revolution is a reality that builds and extends the impact of digitization in new and unanticipated ways. We are ready to systemize, homogenize, and mechanize human work. In the quest for greater efficiencies and profits we are eager to transform, restructure and downsize. We’ve forgotten that human beings are at the centre of work.

The fact is people are viewed as a resource even though we hear the beautiful cliché that people are our greatest asset and competitive advantage. We label people at work as Human resources. This “resource” is then lumped in with technological resources, financial resources and administrative resources. People are expected to become a business resource to be manipulated to achieve certain business outcomes.

The fact is the business world can be a cold, clinical and harsh place lacking a sense of human connect. Yet to be successful we forget we need people to achieve world class results, efficiencies or profits that will make us sustainable. To achieve this, we need to get the best from the people that work for us.

If we want to bring the human being back to work, then surely it should start with leadership. Leaders not managers should put people back at the center of organizational life! But what should leaders do to make this happen? Authentic and honest conversations hold the key. The time for conversational leadership has arrived! Conversational leadership is about open dialogue, meaningful conversations and an authentic two-way relationship between leaders and those they lead.

Conversations are powerful leadership tools to engage, enlist and personalise work. The aim is to get the best from people—multiply their efforts, help them discover their purpose and how work could contribute to this great quest.

Conversational leadership depends less on the heroic actions of your Exco teams, and more on collaborative leadership at all levels throughout an organisation. These conversations are much more interactive, informal and personal than traditional corporate communications, where the top determines and distributes content, and where leaders talk rather than listen.

So where do you start?

Start having conversations about conversations.

Break down ‘the way we do things” and try to demystify what inhibits open conversations in your business. Is it process, a lack of time, trust issues, or a combination of all of these? This can then be used to promote better conversations; working with the culture rather than against it. Foster a culture where conversations can be more intentional, more intimate and more inclusive.

Identify the most prominent topics that require conversation in your organisation

Every organisation faces its own challenges and open and honest rather than closed and directive conversations are needed on topics that impact organisational wellness. Conversational leadership replaces the ease of monologue with the unpredictable nature of dialogue.   To make it work, leaders need to cultivate the art of listening to people at all levels and speaking with them directly and authentically.

Identify ways to equip leaders to have authentic conversations on topics that matter

Shift the focus from leaders ‘having the right answers’ ‘to one where leaders ask or answer the right questions’.  Conversational leadership lies at the heart of how leaders connect, communicate, build trust, inspire and deliver results. The ability to guide and lead conversations is increasingly a prerequisite for successful leaders. The tools for effective mentoring and coaching conversations can assist leaders to have real and meaningful conversations.


The rise of conversational leadership is inevitable. Smart leaders today, engage with employees in a way that resembles an ordinary person-to-person conversation. They promote a climate of trust where people feel free to challenge, share ideas and debate solutions, regardless of their level. People want to be heard, they want to feel appreciated and want to know that their contribution matters.

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