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The Benefit of Teaching Conversational Leadership

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The Benefit of Teaching Conversational Leadership

Dec 14, 2021   |  By
KMI Guest Blogger Amanda Winstead

Leadership is never easy. It often requires you to strike the delicate and difficult balance between coaching, mentoring, teaching, and commanding. But while it is impossible to be all things to all people, there are strategies that effective leaders can use to build a cohesive, harmonious, and high-functioning team.

Among the most promising of these approaches to leadership is the conversational leadership style. Conversational leadership has been shown
to facilitate a more open, successful, and supportive working environment.

But conversational leadership isn’t just for managers and executives. Teaching conversational leadership skills to employees at all levels can maximize the benefits of this approach, making for a happier and higher-performing team!

What is Conversational Leadership?

As the name suggests, a conversational leadership approach prioritizes rich and ongoing communication at all levels and across all job functions.

The conversational leader is approachable and receptive. They not only accept feedback, but they embrace and, indeed, require it, even when that feedback may not necessarily be what the leader wants or expects to hear.

There is, moreover, a significant element of relationship management in conversational leadership. An effective conversational leader remains ever curious, ever invested, not just in the work, but in the workers. The conversational leader pursues bottom-up communications, devoting time and effort to engaging with and learning about employees at all levels.

The stronger the relationship between the leader and their team, after all, the more likely workers at even the most junior levels will be to share hard truths or promising insights when they arise.

For example, in a workplace that emphasizes conversational leadership, an employee who notices that there has been an unusual uptick in the number of customer complaints regarding a specific product and issue, then the subordinate, who may be a lower-level customer service representative, for instance, should feel comfortable in alerting her superiors to a potential product issue. This kind of frequent and timely knowledge-sharing can help to ensure that problems can be recognized and resolved before they can escalate into a full-blown crisis.

Teaching Conversational Leadership

As beneficial as this approach to leadership may be when practiced at the management level, it may be even more effective when such an approach is diffused throughout the organization, with employees at all levels engaging with colleagues in the conversational style.

Conversational leadership, after all, is principally concerned with the production and sharing of knowledge. But when that knowledge is traveling in two directions only, between the leader and their employees, you miss out on invaluable opportunities both for developing productive relationships between team members and for driving communication and knowledge-sharing across the organization, both vertically and horizontally.

This diffusion of knowledge and, in particular, the prioritization of bottom-up communication is critical to breaking down potentially destructive “barriers to knowledge sharing.” Such barriers, for instance, can easily emerge when subordinate employees feel that they cannot or should not share their feedback with senior colleagues. When the lines of communication are open, transparent, and safe, as in the conversational style, then knowledge production and sharing will be optimized and that, in the end, will make for a far more effective workforce.

For instance, in a conversational workplace, employees are less likely to fear recrimination or retribution for sharing information that, for instance, falls short of projections or flouts stated expectations. This is also important to avoid group-think insofar as a conversational approach allows for, accommodates, and, indeed, even requires dissent and heterodoxy. This could involve, for example, the presentation of data and information that decision-makers and stakeholders might consider “negative” or of ideas that defy, resist, or interrogate the consensus.

Effects on Individual Performance

In addition to the positive impacts of conversational leadership on internal communication and knowledge-building, the approach also has been shown to galvanize individual performance. For instance, conversational leadership, above all, is about cultivating conscious awareness, awareness of oneself, one’s environment, and, especially, of one’s colleagues. This involves both active listening and alert mindfulness.

And when you and your team members are always listening, always engaged, then it’s very difficult to miss nascent problems or to let important opportunities slip by.

Conversational Leadership and Employee Development

The perks of teaching your employees to use conversational leadership aren’t just institutional, however. Teaching the approach can be an excellent strategy for employee development. This is particularly true for team members who may have difficulties with social interactions or who may even be experiencing social anxiety. As reticent employees learn and develop new social skills, they may also discover aptitudes for leadership that they never knew they possessed.

Similarly, employees who already possess a faculty for the conversational style may be encouraged to build their skillsets even further. For example, if you identify a natural-born conversational leader, you may encourage them to pursue additional training, advanced certification, or even an executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.

That means that, through both teaching and role-modeling, you will be building teams of leaders, mentors, facilitators, and collaborators. And there are few better ways to cultivate a happy, harmonious, and united team than that!

The Takeaway

The conversational leadership style is highly effective in driving productive communication between leaders and their employees. This is particularly true when the bottom-up approach to communication is prioritized, enabling employees at all levels to offer their insights and share their concerns. However, even more important than the conversational approach between leaders and team members is the value of teaching the style to employees at all organizational levels. Through the teaching of the conversational leadership approach, you can not only support and enhance individual employee performance, but you can also facilitate stellar relationships between employees. At the same time, you will cultivate a workplace environment that optimizes the production and sharing of knowledge. And all this, in the end, makes for more effective, more cohesive, and more satisfied teams.


Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter


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