The Rise of Conversational Leadership

conversational leadership

Conversational Leadership is a more open and personal style of leadership. Leaders enact it themselves and try to institutionalize it throughout the organization so that they create a more collaborative and inclusive culture. 

It is a style of leadership with dialogue as its defining feature. In a modern, networked world, leaders recognize that it is an essential ingredient for sound decision-making, innovation, and powerful employee engagement. Employees entering the workforce expect to be heard. Social media is everywhere. And everyone has a voice. 

Many organizations are not set up for, or ready, for this style of leadership. Processes inhibit it. Or leaders are not yet comfortable with it. So, what are the barriers to conversational leadership?

Barrier 1. Persisting with the wrong kind of communication. Many people think they already have it covered because of the time and money they spend on employee communication. Ironically, this is often counter-productive. Research by the CIPD in the UK found that employees trust leaders who are ‘personal, human and relational.’ Yet the communication they mostly receive is stage-managed, remote and impersonal. 

Barrier 2. Providing answers, instead of asking questions. The fundamental change introduced by conversational leadership centers on asking and answering questions. Leaders must be asking open questions, not ‘tick-the-box’ surveys. Speak to them openly and authentically. This replaces the simplicity of monologue with the authenticity of dialogue. In many organizations, employees do not make suggestions because they don’t think they can make a difference, or because of fear of being branded a troublemaker. 

Barrier 3. Avoiding difficult conversations. People naturally worry about the difficult conversations. So, many meetings and conversations become comfortable rituals, rather than rigorous and engaging conversations. Many managers are ‘too polite,’ and the culture is geared to avoid conflict. Performance reviews become once-a-year events that staff don’t trust, instead of regular conversations about progress. 

Conversational leadership is about shifting the culture so dialogue is everywhere. Leaders have the personal skills to engage others with confidence. And they change practices and processes that inhibit dialogue, like annual performance reviews. People want to be heard, to share, to compare ideas. Conversational leadership builds trust. The right conversation serves as a catalyst for real change, real progress. Younger employees, in this new world, will settle for nothing less. 



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