Corporate Path Leadership stumbled upon a good article in Wharton Business Daily on great leaders. The article was covering a new book, “The Edge” — which profiled 10 CEOs and their leadership lessons. What intrigued CPL was a section of the article about a CEO who was successful by spending more time with a bottoms-up approach and listening to employees, rather than a traditional top-down directive approach.
Of course, this is a common sense practice that all leaders can learn from. The reason this captured our attention however, was the timing of the article, as we are seeing the opposite problem with some leaders. Having too much of a bottoms-up approach can lead to listening, but sometimes at the expense of decisiveness.
The Balancing Act
Corporate Path Leadership believes that all companies can learn to avoid some pitfalls of being too “top-down” or “bottom-up” in leadership style by focusing on the right mix of Dialogue and Monologue, and then communicating that with leaders, peers and employees. Together, you’ll find the right mix of Dialogue and Monologue to succeed. Here’s what we recommend:
AVOID PITFALL #1 – TOO MUCH MONOLOGUE COMMUNICATION FROM LEADERS
This is a common challenge for leaders. With the pressure of challenging goals and limits on time and resources, there is a sense of using a strong command to get results. Too much emphasis in monologue communication is just as it sounds. Examples:
- One-way emails with directives and emphasized deadlines.
- Meetings where the leader not only dominates the discussion, but also does not spend time soliciting feedback other than maybe a faint-hearted “does anyone have a problem with this plan?” (That is not really asking for feedback…)
REPERCUSSIONS: The downfall with a heavy mode of monologue is that it’s easy for people to emotionally tune out, and not feel engaged or invested in the results. Team members may do the bare minimum to quickly mark actions complete out of fear. Alternatively, they may simply get things done so they can check the box, and then focus on something more interesting or compelling.
THE END RESULT: The leader loses in this situation by not connecting people to the results, and by not developing a spirit of collaboration. Even if results are achieved in the short term, there is likelihood of turnover and lower morale that will plague the team in the long run.
AVOID PITFALL #2 – TOO MUCH DIALOGUE WITHOUT CLEAR ACTIONS FROM LEADERS
On the opposite spectrum is the leader who shows up with a spirit of “let’s talk through this issue” with stakeholders. While on the surface this might seem ideal, the reality is that teams need a reminder of what the important issues are and where they should focus their time and energy. Example:
- Meetings where the leader asks employees what they want to talk about.
- While an open discussion can be useful as a quarterly reflection activity, it’s much less useful as a way to conduct regular team meetings.
REPERCUSSIONS: The downfall with too much dialogue and not enough clear direction or actions, makes it easy for people to shirk accountability, and not feel a need for action.
THE END RESULT: This environment can become explosive when deadlines near and there isn’t a true sense of ownership or outcomes — and in some organizations, the finger pointing starts. What can seem like a pleasant tone is replaced by a feeling of team members floating adrift without a sense of where they are going.
Create Right Blend of Monologue and Dialogue
Not surprisingly, strong leaders know how to communicate effectively by using a combination of Monologue and Dialogue at the right times. Here’s an example of how you can combine these two styles for an important new team initiative:
- The leader starts the initiative with clear direction. “What we are planning to accomplish today,” or “What we are aiming to achieve this quarter.” The beginning is something thoughtful and planned, with a goal of making sure everyone knows the desired end result. (MONOLOGUE)
- The leader pauses after initial direction to have a purposeful dialogue with the team about what that means to them, and to find out what the leader might be overlooking. Maybe a question like, “What other aspects of this initiative are important to consider?” (DIALOGUE)
- The leader captures the feedback and confirms the ideas from the group for consideration with a firm commitment to emailing or having another meeting to show how the feedback is being incorporated, (and why some elements are not being incorporated). (MONOLOGUE)
- The leader asks for ideas from the group on some of the key tasks/actions that will need to happen to make the initiative work. For each idea, there should be a confirmation of why the team member thinks the action is needed. The leader here should also provide some sample tasks that they know are needed — but avoid dominating the task list needs. (DIALOGUE)
- The leader takes all of the captured ideas from the participants and assembles them into an initial action plan, with a formal communication of that plan to all team members. (MONOLOGUE)
- The leader meets with the team to determine timing, owners, and resources/budget needed to complete all of the actions — and what the dependencies are for each action item. (DIALOGUE).
- Finally, the leader publishes the initiative plan with all actions, owners, and timing, and sets a routine check-in to determine progress on the plan. (MONOLOGUE)
This combination of Monologue and Dialogue is key to a leader establishing connection with team members, encouraging collaboration, creating accountability in a positive manner, and setting a tone of action and energy to reach the goals.
Incorporate This Blended Approach Anywhere
And while we are providing an example here about how this works with new initiatives, the same approach can be applied to running routine status meetings, having 1:1 meetings with direct reports, or any other series of communication touch points. We encourage you to test this approach out or share with us how you have successfully combined Monologue and Dialogue in your own environments.
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