Leadership is a Conversation

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/joaoloureiro/ Creative commons license

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/joaoloureiro/ Creative commons license

What is the primary “doing” of leadership? I believe that it’s the act of convening the right conversations with the right people in the right way. Let’s look at three aspects of that – sensing, being and acting. See Doug Silsbee’s blog series for more on this topic.

Your first step is to sense into what conversations are needed. Here’s an example. Let’s say there is a member of your team who isn’t quite stepping up to his new role. He’s doing an ok job but he’s not really taking his department where you need it to go. You can feel your frustration or anxiety mounting. Your discomfort is a signal that there is an important conversation waiting in the wings. Pay attention to both the external signs (e.g. a performance gap) and the internal signs (e.g. your feelings of frustration).

To have the “right conversation,” you also need to check your internal state, how you are being with this situation. If you have that conversation from a place of anxiety or fear, it probably won’t accomplish what you need it to. It’s likely that you’ll

  • become too harsh and aggressive and your team member won’t be able to receive what you’re trying to say OR
  • wimp out – you won’t be as clear and direct as you need to in sharing your concerns.

Find the calm within you where both your need to get things done and your human caring and compassion live. Connect to what matters deeply to you. Breathe slowly and deeply. From that calm inner place, you can have the right conversation. There are lots of free resources online to help you find that space.

OK. You’re ready. You see and feel the need. You feel able to act from both human connection and the drive for results. Now you can say what needs to be said. We often forget that much of what needs to be said in this situation is about us, not about the other person or the external events. Let the other person really see how this situation impacts you. Talk about your disappointment or frustration. This bit of human vulnerability provides both a relational context and a task context. Share your observations as clearly and objectively as you can with specificity. Be open to hearing a different point of view. Explore actions that you can both commit to. End the conversation with a commitment to making things different. (There are several good books, such as Crucial Conversations to help with the specifics.)

We are all always sensing, being and doing. (See Doug Silsbee’s blog series for more on this topic. When we are more aware of what goes on in each of those arenas, we can make better choices that expand our capacity as leaders and as humans. The leadership conversations are then more accessible.

A little less talk and a lot more action? Maybe. And, talking is one of the most vital actions of leadership. How about more high quality talk?

Questions to help you have the leadership conversations.


  1. Where is there a gap between my expectations and what I see around me?
  2. What am I noticing that just doesn’t feel right?
  3. How are the things I talk about disconnected from my actions?


  1. How does what I’m noticing connect to what I’m committed to?
  2. What is my embodied experience right now? (e.g. Pulse racing, quiet within, sweaty palms, etc.)
  3. How is my state connected with the state of the system around me? How can I de-link from the state of the system?


  1. What needs to be said to move things forward?
  2. What small moves might create an opening for larger shifts?
  3. What’s at stake for me here? What’s at stake for others?