Leadership is less about the qualities of the person at the top than we often think. Team leaders need not be heroic banner-carriers, nor clever manipulators, nor even creative visionaries. To be effective, what leaders DO need to do is focus on the quality of the group’s conversations.
Dr. Fernando Flores has written: “Leadership is a phenomenon of the conversations of a team, not of an individual. A team participates in a set of ongoing conversations among people who commit to share an explicitly declared mission and to coordinate actions to fulfill the mission. The leader takes action to ensure that these conversations take place and that they are assessed by the team to be effective. The leader is the person who is granted authority by the team to take care of these conversations in an ongoing manner.”
All initiatives result from a network of requester-to-performer conversations. The quality of these conversations determines the success of the enterprise. Leaders should pay close attention to who says what to whom. What is the mood? Which specific words are used? What is the pattern of the dialog?
All collaboration begins in conversation, but results begin when one person makes a commitment. People take action through language that follows a certain structure. Collaborative action involves a certain pattern of responses.
Specific words, used consciously, articulate commitments, provoke true engagement, and invoke enhanced coordination. Someone makes an assessment of the situation. One person makes a specific request of someone else for a certain outcome. A performer makes an agreement or promise to deliver on the request. The requester acknowledges the delivery and expresses satisfaction. Notice the different mood that is created between making a request and making an assignment. Agreements are explicitly negotiated, and once made, they have a much greater impact on personal behavior than directions or orders.
Words lead to behaviors. Behaviors lead to practices. Improved practices lead to teams that excel.