Quality leaders breed quality relationships
According to a paper compiled by Development Dimensions International (DDI), conversations are the lifeblood of leadership. When leaders are adept at conversations, they do much more than communicate effectively – they drive stronger business results.
Over the last 30 to 40 years, perhaps the most significant change in the corporate landscape has been the transition from an economic society based on physical and tangible assets, to one based on intangible assets, such as: customer relationships, ideas, innovation and brand.
Human beings are social creatures. In our daily lives and at work, we are constantly interacting with others. Whether these interactions happen face-to-face, over the phone, or through e-mail or text, the way we treat others, and how we communicate with them, makes an impact – for better or worse. So, what are the skills required to conduct effective interactions?
During its 40-plus years of assessing talent, conducting research and creating development programmes, DDI has found that there is a core set of skills everyone needs to master in order to effectively build relationships and get work done.
A wide range of interactions define a leadership role, including: conducting team meetings, providing coaching, seeking input from stakeholders on key decisions, listening to customers, leading major changes, influencing the direction of a new structure, delegating tasks and assignments, and conducting performance discussions.
Leaders can meet practical needs and structure discussions by using five interaction guidelines. These form a five-step process and provide a direct route for the discussion – which will take leaders to clear and agreed-upon outcomes.
Open: Ensures that discussions have a clear purpose and that everyone understands the importance of accomplishing it.
Clarify: There are two types of information to collect in this step: facts and figures, as well as issues and concerns. Both are essential to building a complete picture of the situation.
Develop: When developing ideas, it is important to ask questions and include others in the process. Most leaders will have ideas about what to do, and they should share them. However, they should also put equal emphasis on seeking ideas of others.
Agree: Leaders and the people involved in the conversation should agree on a plan for following through on the ideas that were developed, and for supporting those who will take action.
Close: The final chance to check that everyone is clear on the agreements and the next steps, and are committed to following through.
DDI also identified seven “interaction sins”, which capture some of the common missteps that befall leaders – at all levels – when it comes to conducting effective conversations:
Straight to fixing the problem
Leaders, who have often been rewarded for getting things done and fixing problems, jump too quickly to presenting the solution. They fail to understand the context of a situation and miss opportunities to involve other parties.
One size fits all
Over time, leaders develop a preferred style and/or approach to meetings and interactions. They can be oblivious to the impact that this approach has on certain situations or individuals. They may also struggle to accommodate different perspectives.
Avoiding the tough issues
Many leaders struggle to address the tough issues, particularly those relating to performance. They lack the skills and insight to diffuse situations and/or tackle areas that are perceived to be more sensitive. As a result, the issues can be left unresolved; leading to increased tension and consequences.
Inconsistent application across different contexts
Leaders often adopt a different approach to different situations and contexts. Skills that they readily apply in one situation may not be deployed in another.
For instance, the highest levels of empathy and diplomacy are often saved for situations where people are trying to influence peers. In these situations, they are more likely to demonstrate diplomacy and tact, and will more effectively clarify a situation in order to calibrate each party’s understanding of the issue at stake.
Influencing through the facts only
Leaders need to spend much more time understanding the perspectives of others before presenting and positioning ideas. Too often they rely on logic and rationale to position an argument or point of view.
They need to embrace more subtle means that proactively build stakeholder networks and appeal to the unique needs and circumstances of particular stakeholders.
Spotting opportunities for change but forgetting to engage others
Leaders often recognise the need for change. They identify opportunities for improvement in areas such as products and processes. However, they struggle to engage others in the change process.
They don’t proactively encourage others to develop ideas; they oversimplify the issues surrounding change; and they show little appreciation for the impact of a change, assuming others will simply get on board.
Neglecting to coach in the moment
When asked to coach direct reports, leaders are generally effective at clarifying what performance is required, having an open dialogue, and offering support for future challenges. However, they often neglect to provide guidance “in the moment of need”. Furthermore, their assessment of development needs can be superficial; missing opportunities to investigate underlying performance gaps.