Michael Sterling

Are You a Leader? Maybe Not – Here’s Why

Leadership Conversational Style

What’s your leadership conversational style? I’m learning more about the fine art of leadership conversations in Judith E. Glaser’s book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results.  I previously wrote about how being a strong conversationalist builds credibility in my article, “What’s Your Conversational IQ?” In that article, I outlined how leaders must understand the powerful conversational rituals that prime the brain for trust, partnership and mutual success. If you’re a leader, you know how important it is to be able to influence others, inspire them to take action, and drive business results. You also know you can’t use the whip, issue ultimatums or hold up huge carrots to simply make it happen.


Leadership happens through conversations, whether one-to-one, or one-to-many. Obviously, positive conversations will work better than negative ones. But it’s not so simple, is it? If you project positive intentions, your employees will likely respond to questions positively and feel more confident about taking risks and accomplishing tasks. When you offer support and praise, employees believe you trust them and will go the extra mile. Positive conversations obviate worries about belonging. Feel-good conversations trigger higher levels of dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins and other chemicals that provide a sense of well-being and drive our state of mind. They foster trusting relationships and influence our response to our coworkers and organizational demands.


Conflict and Conversations

Negative conversations can occur despite our best intentions. Others internalize messages based on what they think we said — not our actual words. As Glaser notes: “Unhealthy conversations are at the root of distrust, deceit, betrayal and avoidance—which leads to lower productivity and innovation, and ultimately, lower success.”When you want to win and subsequently fight hard, you may go into overdrive as you persuade others to adopt your point of view. You push instead of attempting to pull others in your desired direction.


If you try to win at all costs, your conversations will trigger others’ primitive fight-or-flight response. Your conversation partner’s brain will effectively shut down, and he’ll no longer be open to influence. Your conversation will hit a dead end.


Has this ever happened to you? I’m sure you’re not immune. In the work I do as a career coach, I hear about conversations gone wrong even with the best intentions. Open interactions require you to be perceived as friend, not foe. If you don’t pay attention to the trust issues, you’ll never convince or influence anyone.


Different Conversational Styles

Some people naturally expound and others inquire. But as a leader, you must develop your conversational style to suit the situation and desired outcomes. You need a variety of conversational styles.


This reflects the leadership style most appropriate to the situation: authoritarian, authoritative, coaching, democratic, or supportive. Smart leaders know when to be directive and when to be inquisitive and supportive.


In my next post, I’ll explore Glaser’s three levels of conversations you can use, depending on what you’re trying to do as a leader.


  1.        Level I: Transactional
  2.        Level II: Positional
  3.        Level III: Transformational


What are your thoughts about conversations as a leadership tool? I’d love to hear from you. Connect with me on LinkedIn


Interested in more insights on career development? Check out the Career Wellness library on the SterlingFreeman website.

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