Monthly Archives: February 2012

Leadership and Communication: First, Do No Harm

 |  Leadership

“A primary role of leaders is to design, convene, and host conversations that matter.” This statement by David Isaacs is true in light of the fact that conversation is a core business process. Business, like relationships, happens through conversation. As leaders we have many conversations. How many of them matter? How do we, as leaders, ensure that our conversations matter? One way a conversation matters is when it helps us drive the business forward in a positive way. Another way a conversation matters is when it helps us develop the capacity of an individual or team to make a positive impact in driving the business forward. It is our responsibility as leaders communicate with others to achieve both these objectives.

To drive the business forward and to develop our capacity to drive the business successfully, we need to attend to what we say and do and in what manner. Why? Because everything we say or do communicates something. This is a broad understanding of communication; and, it is important to our work as leaders to see this understanding as a starting point for how we go about the work of leadership. This mindset keeps us intentional regarding how we design and convene (read imagine and move) our business conversations.

All conversations (all leadership for that matter) should be should be designed with one aim in mind: enable high engagement to maximize positive impact. When we design our communication and conversations with this aim in mind, we minimize the likelihood that what we are saying, and how we are saying it, might create a barrier to engagement. A verbal or non-verbal miscommunication can have a serious, unintentionally negative impact. Without focused attention and intention, many times we say or do something that creates a barrier for an individual or team to engage and make the contribution we would want. It is our responsibility to create the conditions that enable people “to voluntarily give their best ( Arie de Geus).” How we communicate and design our conversations can have positive or negative impact on how people engage and contribute. Being mindful of this will carry us a long way.

Remaining mindful of the impact of our communication, and thereby, our conversations, invites a new approach to what we seek to accomplish and what we expect along the way. This more intentional leadership seeks to influence more than persuade or coerce. This mindset regarding leadership communication and conversation is akin to the highest value of medicine: First, do no harm.

As leaders we can underestimate the impact our words and actions have on the people around us. We continue to underestimate the power of our communications and the potential for them to trigger a counterproductive reaction for someone else at our peril. We need to pay more attention to what we communicate and how. Imagine if before we communicated anything we were to become clear about what we hope to achieve through our communication, what we want to communicate, and what we want the experience and message to be for the person or people with whom we are communicating. This attention to design raises the probability that our communication at the very least will do no harm and at the very best enable high engagement to maximize positive impact.

Accepting these axioms of business (1. Conversation is a core business process. 2. Everything a leader says or does is communication and has impact.) invites a new responsibility to first, do no harm; and second, enable high engagement to maximize positive impact. Accepting this responsibility means leading and communicating to keep others “in the game” and “on the field.” When we are in “the field” we are encouraging continual forward movement for the business and the people in it. When we are communicating from this place of awareness and intention we don’t become stuck in unproductive roles: victim or villain, winner or loser, good guy (hero) or bad guy. We are simply seeking to communicate a message in a way that enables engagement and the positive transformation of the business, the team, and the person.

Autopilots Not Allowed

 |  Leadership

There is a scene in Ron Howard’s film “Parenthood” that I’ve always loved. Steve Martin and Jason Robards are talking about being parents and Jason Robard’s character says, “It never ends. You never get to spike the ball in the end zone.” The exchange gets me every time.

Leadership is the same way. It is a path that never ends. You may get to celebrate successes along the way; but, the work of leadership is ongoing. There is always the next strategic objective. The team needs constant attention in order to keep engagement and performance at a high level. And if we what to provide strong leadership, we need to keep a learner’s mindset and to continually hone our skills as leaders.

A terrific leader I know said to me once early in our coaching relationship that he just wanted to get the team to the point where things would just run smoothly and he could flip on the autopilot. I had to break the bad news; there is no autopilot. Things are constantly in flux. Change is like the weather; it just exists.

I worked with another leader who used to tell his team, ”Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.” It was his way of reminding everyone that we can celebrate successes along the way, but the work continues. There is always more to do to drive the business, grow the team, and sharpen the saw. When it comes to leadership, there is no autopilot.