People often do not say what they are really thinking; in some situations and circumstances this is probably a very good thing but in many cases it is not. One of the most valuable things we can do is to find a way of saying the things that some feel can’t be said. I frequently say ‘it’s not the what, it’s the how’.
In response to a previous blog, I was sent a link to a book called ‘Fierce Conversations’ by Susan Scott. Scott defines a fierce conversation as ‘one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real’. Scott is the founder of Fierce Inc, experts in cultural transformation, she has also written ‘Fierce Leadership’ which addresses in a very practical and candid manner the issues which both limit our performance and our ability to connect with other people. Scott’s mantra is that even a subtle shift in one individual’s behaviour can set large-scale transformation into motion.
The word ‘fierce’ may seem a strange choice of words to some but Scott uses it to highlight the type of conversation or leadership that really engages people.
‘Fierce conversations’ is about achieving results through competent and courageous dialogue. It doesn’t sound like rocket science, yet it is a skill. If we think about the conversations we have on a daily basis, whether at home or at work, there are many where we think ‘that could have gone better’ and many where we didn’t get our desired outcome. A careful conversation might be a failed conversation because it merely postpones the conversation that needs to take place.
There are a number of principles listed in the book, some of which I identify with more than others, but I will list them all;
- Master the courage to interrogate reality. To accomplish goals reality must be regularly and thoroughly examined.
- Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real. Authenticity is not something that you have, it is something you chose. Authenticity is powerful and is recognised by others.
- Be here, prepared to be nowhere else. When talking to someone ensure you are there (properly present) and listen well.
- Tackle your toughest challenge today. Hand in hand with the courage to interrogate reality is courage to address your toughest issues, whatever they may be.
- Obey your instincts. The book suggests we have a perfectly working radar and to go with your gut feeling more than we sometimes do.
- Take responsibility for your emotional wake. Remember the impact you make if you are in a leadership role, no comment is trivial or should be seen as ‘throw away’.
- Let silence do the heavy lifting. The best leaders talk with people and not at them, but fierce conversations also require silence. Silence allows people to focus on the cause not the effect.
In summary to be able to have fierce conversations we need to be able to listen, to not talk for the sake of talking, to appreciate our impact, to pay attention to our gut feelings and have courage.
In ‘Fierce Leaders’ Scott highlights that thenew, sustainable and competitive edge of fierce leadership is human connectivity. Scott writes, ‘Everywhere, people are hungry to connect, to be seen and be known as the unique individuals they are, this has an immediate and powerful impact on how we design business strategies and services and ultimately on whether our businesses succeed or fail’.
Scott suggests a change in emphasis towards emotional intelligence, modelling accountability rather than just holding people to account, real engagement and client connectivity rather than the too frequently seen token gesture, and radical transparency.
There is a great example of the need to change behaviour in meetings where sometimes people stubbornly cling to their ideas (sometimes at length) in an attempt to impress others with the brilliance of their thinking. Their goal is to influence; it does not occur to them that an equally valid goal would be to be influenced. Often in meetings like these nothing new emerges because individuals are focused on being right rather than on making the best possible decisions for the organisation. This links to being able to listen effectively. I can think of many, many times when I have seen this happen.
The culture of an organisation is not nebulous. I am the culture. You are the culture. We shape that culture every time we hold a meeting, speak on the phone, send e-mails etc. We need to remember this.
It’s worth having a look at the website www.fierceinc.com. The first lines are;
‘When you think of Fierce, think passion, integrity, authenticity, collaboration. Think cultural transformation. Think execution muscle. Think leadership.