Critical Conversations

When many of us think of leadership we get the stereo-typical “Follow-me!” physical courage type of leadership. It might be a nice image. In working with business owners and leaders, however, moral courage is the kind of courage I see most often. The way I see it displayed is in those quiet but crucial conversations with one or two other people.

Many of us stall when it come to facing that uncomfortable but necessary confrontation with another person. Climbing over the top of a trench to face the machine guns seems preferable to sitting down with an employee to discuss their recent non-performance, or the way they treat other employees. People are messy and unpredictable, and when the issue is important to us we often get emotional. Emotional people aren’t always at their best.

Here are some warning signs that we may need to learn how to have more effective confrontations :

  • new rules and processes get rolled out to cover some contingency or specific behaviour, when what was needed was a closed-door conversation between the boss and one employee. This is the “punish everybody for something one person did wrong” scenario. What effect does this have on employee morale?
  • new positions get created or new processes and rules instituted to back-stop someone who is not performing. This is the “you can screw up as much as you like, you’ll never get fired” scenario. It’s the kind of company culture that results in 82-page safety guidelines. The kind that nobody reads because it’s 82-pages long. What affect does this have on engagement and initiative?
  • endless meetings and meetings about meetings where nobody can seem to make a decision and people get bent because they aren’t getting their way. What impact does this have on productivity?

Ignoring those squishy “soft skills” confrontations has a bad effect on our business. How do we get good at one-on-one conversations that are so important in building influence, confronting issues, and moving the business forward? One resource I’d recommend is VitalSmarts’ book called “Crucial Conversations“. It will give you the basic tools and practices you need to begin having the courage to have those conversations.

What examples have you seen of courageous leaders when skillfully confronting poor behaviour? Let us know in the comments.

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