I have personally witnessed the impact that is caused by leaders who lack the courage to have challenging conversations, the kind that takes both parties involved into places that feel uncomfortable. An effective leader is one who has the confidence and the knowledge to do this in a skilful way that nurtures and develops their people without damaging the relationship, and that has the potential to deepen their connection. I have noticed that the desire to have these interactions is a real sticking point for a lot of people. They either avoid it and hope the issue goes away, or they skirt around the core of the issue without really taking the conversation where it needs to go.
When a leader chooses to avoid the personal discomfort of having these conversations, they are also removing the opportunity to have meaningful interactions, which in turn can lead to an environment of artificial harmony. This directly impacts the overall culture, productivity, engagement, and growth of an organisation.
If leaders are not challenging their people to look through a different lens, facilitating a conversation that expands their thinking, tapping into their creativity, showing they trust and value them to take responsibility for their actions, beliefs and behaviours, aren’t we creating a stagnant workforce? Does this only set our people up to possibly fail and definitely not reach their true potential?
There are, of course, leaders who are the opposite they are direct, to the point, a straight shooter. Even when done well, though, if the focus of a conversation is on what the leader wants, it will be impossible to have a breakthrough in perception. Problem-solving might be possible, incremental shifts in behaviour might occur later as a result, but the opportunity to lead to a mind-changing tilt in perception that allows the person to see a situation in a different light and create impactful change won’t be achieved.
I have been teaching the art of coaching to leaders for 10 years, and I like to call these conversations purposeful and selfless, rather than difficult or uncomfortable. These conversations should be viewed for what they are: opportunities for significant growth and learning. Both recent studies, as well as my own experiences, have revealed that it is evident that people want to be challenged. It can be confronting and uncomfortable but when done well, a leader can create impactful and memorable learning, which is incredibly rewarding, both professionally and personally.
Our purpose is to teach leaders our coaching frameworks and to provide them with models for having effective conversations, but the real emphasis is on building a safety bubble of connection and partnering together, authentically. This is required in order to facilitate a positive experience and outcome for both parties.
In adopting a coaching approach, the focus shifts to the receiver, the person you are speaking with, rather than having the focus remain on the leader who is wanting to drive the conversation. You don’t have a message to deliver, but rather, you desire for someone to expand their awareness and see a situation (and themselves) in a different light. You don’t tell them what you want, but rather, you want them to discover, create, or unveil this new reality independently. In short, you want your people to think for themselves; you are the facilitator of this process. Coaching provides the guiding principles to facilitate purposeful and selfless conversations, creating a partnership that allows for expansive thinking to take place.
The first and most impactful approach a leader can take is to build authentic connections by having meaningful and impactful conversations. Over time, this builds a solid foundation of trust, where those challenging conversations that take someone out of their comfort zone can take place, resulting in positive outcomes.