Various complex interdependencies exist that are hard to order and control and the outcomes from these various influences are not always predictable. In this context the way people talk with each other, the questions they explore and the stories they tell have a shaping role in the way the school community moves forward (or backwards). We talk with colleagues, with those we lead, with parents, with students in all sorts of ways in any given week.
And we progress issues (or inhibit progress) by the way we lead and respond in these conversational moments.
The academic and practitioner literature is starting to highlight this:
"There is a strong emphasis on notions of dialogue and conversation in the academic literature on leadership.” (Cavanagh, in press)
"Conversation is the fundamental unit of change. If you change the conversation, then there’s every chance you’ll change everything that surrounds it.” (Jackson & Waldman, 2011)
So if both our planned and spontaneous conversations are so important, what are the things we can do to ensure that they move things forward, rather than inhibit progress, or indeed, take things backwards…? Interestingly, the things that help these conversations are many of the things that make for good coaching conversations. Here are 5 ideas for making every conversation count:
Get clear on what a good outcome from the conversation would be. Sometimes you can prepare for this ahead of time. In other situations it is negotiated at the beginning by asking a question such as "What would be a useful place to get to with this topic in the time we have available now?"
Make sure to stay focused on the desired outcome. Try to spend more time on talking about the preferred future rather than focusing on the background or the past. It is surprising how many people are really clear about and willing to talk about what they do not want. Asking a question such as "And what would you like to have happen in relation to this?" can quickly shift focus towards what is wanted – almost always a more constructive place to invest time and energy.
Good listening is a fundamental skill of leadership and a very good way of influencing others. Do lots of it.
Use what is working
Identify and leverage existing resources. It can be easy to be overly influenced by obvious barriers and difficulties. Without pretending that these do not exist, it is important to focus attention on what is or has worked so that any available resources can be identified and are deployed effectively. Identifying resources can go a long way towards building confidence that movement is possible in even the most challenging situations.
Small steps are sometime better than big ones. They are easier to do and therefore more likely to get done. They also change the landscape – taking some small actions creates momentum and changes things. Then additional small steps can be taken and so on until the desired outcome is achieved or until an even better one emerges.
How would you be acting differently or speaking differently if you were to adopt some of these ideas? What might be one small step you could take this month towards that?
- Cavanagh, M. (2013) ‘The coaching engagement in the 21st Century: New paradigms for complex times’, in S. David, D. Clutterbuck & Megginson D. (eds), Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring, London: Gower Publishing. pp. 151-184.
- Jackson, P. and Waldman, J. (2011) Positively Speaking: The Art of Constructive Conversation with a Solutions Focus. St Albans: The Solutions Focus.