Why You Need To Kick-Start Powerful Conversations

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How can you kick-start a powerful conversation at work?

We all know communication is vital when it comes to leadership. It’s a word we hear all the time in speeches, TED talks, and blog posts. But where do you start? If you’re an introvert, and a leader, what questions can you ask to engage meaningfully with your team?

Dan Rockwell is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and consultant. He's been named as a top 50 leadership expert, and he's the man behind one of the most popular leadership blogs on the planet, leadershipfreak.com. I recently interviewed Dan on the LEADx podcast and discussed how to start powerful conversations at work. (The interview below has been edited for space and clarity.)

Kevin Kruse: How do you kick-start powerful conversations?

Dan Rockwell: The passion here, Kevin, is that the higher you go in an organization, the more you talk and the less you do. I don't mean that in a pejorative way, but you know what I'm saying. You're on the front line making a product or delivering services to a customer. You're actually working with people who are doing that, and so you end up talking a lot. It got me thinking about how do you have powerful conversations? It concerns me, because I think we can just focus in on the pressing need.

I like to encourage leaders to make sure that they are paying attention to being intentional about the conversations that they're having. One of the best ways to do that is to start a conversation and ask the person you're talking with, “What would make our conversation successful today?”

Kruse: Setting that expectation upfront. 

Rockwell: Absolutely. Then paying attention to people. I love to ask people about what's giving them energy. Here's something I find, Kevin. Sometimes leaders are a little uncomfortable and are unsure of the right question to ask. When you're unsure of the right question to ask, just say to someone, “What's on your mind?” And listen to that.

Kruse: Open-ended questions can reveal a lot.

Rockwell: Absolutely. Questions about the person and the process, not just solving a problem, like the question about “What's giving you energy today?” or, “Where are you wasting energy today?” Or “Where would you like to focus more fully?” Those kinds of questions help people think in bigger terms.

Kruse: If I'm a manager and I have 10 direct reports, how often should I be doing one-on-ones?

Rockwell: Perhaps the answer to that relates to how long those one-on-ones are. If you can have several short one-on-ones, I think that's better than one long one-on-one. You might consider it twice a month for 15 minutes or twice a month for 20 minutes, depending again on the nature of the business. I would prefer that to a one-hour conversation once a month, because you get a sense of continuity and accountability if you do it a little more frequently. I would go for brevity and greater frequency, if possible.

Kruse: Do you have some unique advice when it comes to choosing leaders?

Rockwell: One of them really relates to where you find these leaders. I think we overvalue extroverts and undervalue introverts when it comes to leaders. It can be easy to overlook an introvert. Look for the quieter people in your organization. You might consider looking on the fringes of your organization to see who's been there for a while and who's been serving faithfully, but they're not really flashy.

I love working with introverted leaders. Every leader has certain issues that they're trying to deal with. Sometimes with the introverted leader, it's learning to balance the tension between the need for quiet private time to process, and then the public time. The introverted leader to me, I just admire this so much maybe because I've always tried to be extroverted and earlier on, tried to be flashy and all of those kind of things. I just have come to respect that quiet, steady leadership that can come from an introverted style.

Kruse: You’ve written about how to be a leader people choose to follow. What’s the secret?

Rockwell: I think we want to have influence. I think we want to make impact in our organizations. The idea behind this is what kind of person do you want to be to have people who will follow you? I just have to tell you, the people that I want to follow are the people who think I have something to offer. They respect me; they see something in me. I bet you know what this is like, Kevin. You go somewhere and you give a presentation and people get something out of it and they come up to you afterwards and they say good things.

Honestly, those things–the things that people say to us, those positive things, they almost help us believe that, “Hey, we could really do this.” When people make us feel that way, we're anxious or interested in following them too. Seeing good in others, seeing strength in others.

Sometimes leaders are a little too negative, a little too trying to fix every little problem. If you can see some strength, see some good in others, and help them believe in themselves, boy, they'll be anxious to follow you.

Kruse: I always like to challenge our listeners to become 1% better every single day. What is one specific thing maybe that you could challenge them to do today?

Rockwell: Great question, Kevin. Here's what I like to do with leaders, I challenge them to do a walkabout. You could leave your office right now and do a walkabout around your organization with a certain intention in mind. You're going to walk about to see people doing good, you're going to walk about to ask a question. You're going to walk about to invite someone to give you feedback. “What could I do better to serve you?” The idea of a walkabout to take 10 or 15 minutes, get up from your desk and walk around the organization and make intentional contact, I think, can make a big difference for leaders.

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.