There are at least eight essential conversation competencies that can help CEO’s engage their stakeholders, peers, clients, staff and family members in a more productive and meaningful way.
The CEO is also the Chief Engagement Officer – each conversation is an investment, and when the ‘CEO’ gets it right, he or she can experience a very good return on engagement [ROE] as a culture of authentic engagement begins to trickle through the organization.
1 – Showing up with an authentic voice
How a leader sees him or herself impacts on how he or she shows up in the marketplace and workplace. Leaders need to first look inward and understand how they see their world. Getting to understand their ways of being, thinking and acting and the resulting patterns of engagement will help, with feedback, to explore more productive ways of engaging self and others. The process of recognizing and letting go of limiting beliefs that cloud success, enables leaders to show up with a new sense of clarity and purpose.
“Much has been written about the “transparent” leader. In my experience, the best ones have a balance of transparency. . . they are transparent in that they let the reality of where they are and the situation be known. We can only ultimately trust people who are being real with us. But part of that, is transparency not just about the facts, but about themselves as well. We need to see their vulnerabilities and how they are feeling about things. We also need to know about their failures, and times they haven’t gotten it right. That helps us to follow them.”
Henry Cloud PH.D.
Integrity – the courage to meet the demands of reality
A leader who is transparent and congruent comes across as more authentic and confident, and others are drawn in to a dialogue, the art of creating a new destiny together.
2 – Conducting effective, honest and purposeful conversations
One of the most powerful tools for deep dialogue is committed listening, which involves a set of interrelated skills: open-ended questioning, paraphrasing, acknowledging feelings, non-verbal encouragers and summarizing. It’s the commitment to listen to the unique experiences of another person by hearing not only the words but sensing and responding to the underlying feelings, and unexpressed meanings behind the words. An essential competency is the ability to communicate authentically and remain true to oneself while not violating the rights of others. This includes having skilled, results-driven conversations about performance, productivity and quality.
3 – Engaging in tough, conflict conversations when necessary
Every leader needs the confidence and capability to lean into tough conversations with people perceived to be difficult. The mere act of showing up, rather than avoiding tough conversations, will most often result in a better outcome than what was at first anticipated, and often results in a more positive and collaborative outcome. Tough conversations are ‘tough’ in the sense that a leader needs to balance care with candour so that the leader does not communicate a mixed message. This involves showing care and respect for the person while at the same time being absolutely clear on the issues.
4 – Collaborating with customers
Building collaborative internal and external client relationships that help to differentiate the organization from the competition is critical. Every organization is handed two major touch points or ‘aces’, which can be played continuously or withheld. The first ‘ACE’ is to cultivate an Authentic Culture of Engagement within the organization. Playing this ‘ACE’ is counterintuitive, because it requires that all levels of leadership first model the client touch point behaviours with each other as internal clients.
Cultivating an Authentic Culture of Engagement within the organization is a primary internal touch point that validates and energizes contact with clients. It’s thus easier for the 2nd ‘ACE’ – the practice Authentic Customer Engagement – to flourish more spontaneously at every customer touch point. Playing both ‘ACEs’ in the organizational pack are relatively low cost exercises, yet the Returns On Engagement [ROE] and productivity is immense.
5 – Communicating change
Communicating constantly with employees during change is critical. Employees at all levels have the same fundamental questions about their job. According to Roger D’Aprix, leaders need to recognize that staff – especially those who are most impacted by the change – ask six fundamental questions when change happens: “What’s my job?” “How am I doing?” “Does anyone care?” “How are we doing?” “What’s our vision and values?” and “How can I help?”
Leaders need to spend a lot of time ensuring that the answers to the six questions are being communicated and facilitated in various ways using multiple media channels. The most important channel is in-person face-to-face dialogue. The more key stakeholders become part of the conversation, the easier it is to initiate change because perceptions and positions have shifted through dialogue.
6 – Communicating bad news
There is a significant difference between what leaders want to tell employees and what employees want to hear. Without creating opportunities to establish understanding, dialogue has not truly occurred. Too often leaders think they have communicated, when in fact, they have simply sent out information. Communicating bad news to staff involves knowing how to communicate the unpleasant stuff authentically, with integrity and in a timely fashion.
7 – Conducting persuasive presentations
Another important competency for every leader is the ability to engage, inspire and inform others through principled persuasion. The art of principled persuasion means leaders use their essential signature – the way they see themselves, the way they show up and sell themselves to boost their personal effectiveness and communicate an important message.
It includes developing a compelling message and incorporating stories and analogies that make the message stick. Knowing how to structure the presentation effectively, articulating the benefits, being very clear on the point and having a clear call to action is also critical to delivering a persuasive presentation.
8 – Facilitating productive meetings
Meetings that occur without much direction are breeding grounds for hijacked agendas, whine sessions and major time wasters. These types of meetings drain the energy in the room whereas meetings that are productive and purposeful generate energy. Every leader needs to know how to facilitate productive meetings and get the most out of group interactions within shorter time frames. Having clear rules of engagement, good facilitation and a functional structure are essential for having productive meetings.