How many leadership presentations have you heard? Leadership articles have your read? Leadership books have you bought? If you are like most professionals, there comes a point in your career where you know learning to be a better leader is critical to your success. You decide to crack the book, attend the seminar, sign-up for the leadership guru twitter feed. Soon you realize world is flooded with leadership advice and models. Much of it is good. Dive in: there is lots to learn about personal responsibility, developing others, crafting a vision and driving results. After some time, does it all start to sound the same? Sometimes I think leadership ideas are like Tex-Mex food – beans, rice and tortillas arranged in different ways on the plate.
After watching organizations struggle to get traction on strategic change or seeing leaders confounded about engaging their team, I realized leadership models were not enough to move people from big vision to committed action.
Leadership is about getting people to act together. Acting together requires thinking together. Thinking together requires having a conversation. Where does a leader learn to lead conversations where people contribute their ideas and build shared commitment? I wanted to answer these questions. I started studying facilitative leadership, and specifically facilitation skills. I started to see how effective leadership is as much about the questions a leader asks as the statements she makes. It’s as much about creating conditions for thinking together and work together as driving a process forward.
I wanted to know: How do we hold productive conversations? How do we sequence conversations to move people forward? How do we have conversations with large groups of people so we hear others ideas real-time? How do we navigate conversations where people disagree? How do we value human to human conversations when email, social media, virtual reality, and all sorts of technology platforms vie to the primary mode of communication?
I believe conversations transform. I am passionate about helping good people get great things done together through meeting facilitation, and now, facilitation training to teach others how to lead their own conversations. In a world where technology rules, I believe the best path forward for professionals, managers, and leaders is to know how to create conditions where people talk human to human to solve real problems and create better futures.
If you too understand that people must talk the old-fashion way, face to face, if they are to address their toughest challenges and make things better…. And, if you want to lead these conversations well, than here are best practices I’ve learned from facilitating lots of meetings.
- It’s usually best to make sure the right people are in the room. It’s always a bummer if critical information is absent, a decision can’t be made or an agreement is broken because someone needed isn’t in the room.
- It’s usually best to figure out the underlying question your group is grappling with. Often it is a sort of both/and dilemma people struggle to resolve. When people are stuck, more often than not, they are struggling to resolve dissonance between two counter ideas or values.
- It’s usually best to start with getting people to hear and understand the multiple perspectives in the room. It’s hard to move forward together if people don’t know the other points of views, opinions, facts and information that exist.
- It’s usually best to next imagine together what a better future might be. It doesn’t have to be crystal clear, it just has to be a shared sense of the common desire people are reaching for. When people have an image of the shared future, they tend to suggest better strategies for moving forward.
- It’s usually best to carve in time after the envisioned future for people to pause, go internal, and think about themselves. With the “what is” understood and the “what might be” imagined, sitting somewhere between is each individual asking themselves, “what does this all mean for me?” Give people time to figure out their role in this emerging creation.
- It’s usually best to get people happy and creative before generating strategies to move forward. It’s great to prototype concepts and test ideas. Mistakes and feedback are our best teachers.
- Finally, it’s usually best to put thoughtful design into your agenda strategy. If you want to learn to design and facilitate participatory methods so your next meeting is a collaborative success, sign up for Designing and Facilitating Collaborative Meetings.