In a time of ever-changing factors in our lives, both in and outside of work and where further changes in ways of working are on the horizon, it’s a time to think about your leadership development strategy. This strategy should enable leaders to be effective in their roles as well as building and maintaining happy, engaged high performing teams.
There are key leadership skills that many of us have been talking about for a long time and never before have these factors been more important than during a global pandemic, which will continue to be essential as we shift into a new period of adjustment. Skills such as empathy, compassion, trust, vulnerability, listening, coaching, well-being and mental health awareness; and let us not forget, embracing the technology to manage remote teams.
I’m sure that you would agree, this is a long list which can be overwhelming and leave us asking ourselves ‘Where do we start?’ ‘What do we focus on?’ ‘Is there an overall skill that includes all the above?’
YES – it all boils down to having meaningful conversations!
By developing leaders in having meaningful conversations, we are addressing many of the skills and behaviours that will support them in getting the best from the individuals within their teams.
It’s no quick fix though, any strategy needs to be long-term. You don’t develop leaders with a 3-hour virtual workshop or a 6–12-month programme. Leadership Development is an ongoing process, it’s a lifestyle change, just like a 2-week diet isn’t going to keep you healthy forever.
“The first step in having meaningful conversations is to work on your personal effectiveness skills”
The first step is to develop leaders in personal effectiveness skills. If they are busy and worrying about all the things on their to do list, they are not going to focus on having a meaningful conversation. When we’re busy we don’t give people enough of our time, we are easily distracted and don’t pay full attention. When we’re organised and plan our time more effectively, we are more present in conversations.
Here are 5 areas to start developing your leaders in having more meaningful conversations:
As Stephen Covey said, ‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply’.
When we truly listen, we don’t just pay attention to the spoken words. We pay attention to the tone and to the person’s body language. When we are paying full attention, we can also sense what is not being said which leads to asking more powerful questions. It’s also important to get used to silence, someone will fill it – encourage your leaders to make sure it’s the employee and not the leader.
Go into any conversation with a curious mind, the more curious you are the better your questions will be. It will also make it easier to keep the agenda about them and not turn it around to you. When you’re curious, you probe, you delve into the root cause and the other person finds it easier to open up.
Many managers struggle to get past the ‘How are you?’ question, give them the tools to get past this. A survey on health and well-being at work from the CIPD in 2020 revealed that the biggest cause for stress at work is workload at 60%. Are we asking enough questions about workload and more importantly are we creating an environment where it’s not seen as a weakness to be struggling with workload?
- Embrace diversity
A diverse workforce is an innovative one, but only if we’re embracing our differences. If people are made to feel that having different opinions and ideas is wrong, then this will stifle your meaningful conversations. People need to feel able to speak up about their thoughts and we need to develop leaders in unconscious bias and see the benefits that diversity brings to a team.
How can you develop your leaders to not only give feedback better but to also receive feedback? The feedback given, needs to be specific, clear and solution focused. If you provide feedback which leaves the receiver scratching their head on what the feedback meant or how to improve, you may as well have not bothered. Managers often tell me that they have never asked their team for feedback on them,
therefore, how do they know how they are performing as a leader if they never ask the people they lead?
When having conversations, it’s important that your leaders aim to see things from the other person’s perspective rather than theirs. Having a paradigm shift to understand people more is imperative to meaningful conversations.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen Covey
A well conducted ‘Needs Analysis’ should tell you how to prioritise these areas and then ask yourself the following:
- How can I create content that is easily accessible and just in time?
- How can I create a blend of learning resources that includes practical tools?
- Can I create a space for Leaders to have and practice their meaningful conversations?
And by the way, the ability of having meaningful conversations doesn’t have to stop with people that have the title of manager, everyone in any organisation can be a leader and therefore we should develop all employees in having more meaningful conversations. Now is the time to banish the phrase ‘soft skills’ and see them for what they are: ‘essential skills’.
Emma Dechoux – Managing Director Inspired Learning