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Introduction to Conversational Leadership for KM Practitioners

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Introduction to Conversational Leadership for KM Practitioners

Feb 05, 2020   |  By
John Hovell

Why consider Conversational Leadership?
Our world has notable peace and turmoil. We can see peace between countries that were at war just a few decades ago. And we can see peace in communities and families that have worked through their challenges. Alongside this peace, we can also see turmoil in countries, communities, and families.

Peace and turmoil exist within each of us as individuals also. I can experience moments of happiness, joy, calm, and contentment within myself, and I can also feel moments of anger, disappointment, confusion, and strife within myself.

There are many ways to look at peace and turmoil. We can look at them through a technological lens. For example, we’ve seen technology expand from audio to video, to automation, to prediction and beyond. We can also look at peace and turmoil through a leadership lens. For example, we’ve seen leadership expand from styles of directive, to supportive, to coaching, to delegation, and to collaborative.

How does this relate to KM?
Knowledge Management has progressed collaboration and the flow of knowledge for several decades now. We’ve seen KM expand from within a single organization or community or nation to more and more examples of “external-facing” KM.

Given your specific purpose and objective of KM, we’ve collectively seen quite a bit of KM technology. For example, the “Conversation Prism” offers hundreds of techniques to serve specific collaboration needs. We’ve also seen many KM processes. For example, Knowledge Transfer processes, Expertise Location processes, Knowledge Café processes, etc.

Conversational Leadership has the potential to be another expansion of KM culture, processes, and tools. Especially from a cultural perspective, it is quite often that we hear about the challenges of “buy-in for KM” and “barriers to knowledge sharing.” Most organizations are hierarchical in their design, and so we often hear about “top-down” or “bottom-up” or even “peer-to-peer” patterns of influence and decision making. What if the concept of leadership was based on both your position and your leadership skills? What if we reminded ourselves of the difference between leaders and leadership, and more purposefully balanced the individual and collective aspects of leadership?

As KM continues to grow and expand from information management to experience management, to idea management, to collective leadership and beyond, we have an opportunity to develop from collaboration, innovation, and decision making to complexity, sensemaking, and Conversational Leadership.

Patricia Shaw, a former professor at the Business School at the University of Hertfordshire and founder of the Complexity and Management Centre, says,

“One of the ways of thinking about leadership, is thinking about convening conversations that might not happen otherwise.”

We often provide KM tools and techniques as broad solutions to challenges, similar to how engineers apply engineering tools and techniques to problems. Most of us think that we’re defining the challenge as best we can, and thinking as broadly as we can about the solutions. What if it were less about defining the problem, even less about the answers, and more about skillfully creating and contributing to an environment where conversations can flourish? Maybe that’s similar to one of the KM definitions of “creating an environment in which unique and critical knowledge can flow?" Notice the focus on conversation and leadership in this case.

What is Conversational Leadership?
Conversational Leadership is about appreciating the extraordinary but underutilized power of conversation, recognizing that we can all lead, and adopting a conversational approach to the way in which we live and work together in an increasingly complex world.

It is a relationship-building and community-building vehicle. It helps us to understand each other better and, in doing so, better understand ourselves. Furthermore, it is a collective sensemaking tool that helps us make better sense of the world and thus improve our decision making by bringing different perspectives to bear on an issue.

How to learn more
David Gurteen and I are running a Conversational Leadership workshop in the UK from 3-7 August 2020.

You will spend much of your time in conversation during the workshop:

  • First, to make sense of the Conversational Leadership concept and its principles
  • Second, to practice and improve your conversational skills
  • Third, to build strong relationships with the other participants and create a sense of community

You will learn about and experience two powerful conversational methods, the Knowledge Café and the C-group.

The Knowledge Café is a conversational process that brings a group of people together to make a better sense of a complex issue, share experiences, learn from each other, and build stronger relationships. Many of the sessions will take the format of a talk followed by a Knowledge Café to allow you to fully engage with each other and make better sense of the material.

The C-group is an experiential and transformative learning methodology that enables a small group of people to practice and develop their interpersonal and conversational skills. You will take part in several C-group sessions throughout the workshop.

Conversational Leadership may be an extension of KM, or it may become an entirely new discipline, or it may blur into a new discipline. What an exciting opportunity to learn and contribute to the emergence of a potentially new discipline. Let’s practice a way to continuously respond to these questions together:

  • Are we having the conversation(s) we need to be having right now?
  • Are we having those conversations in the way we need to be having them?
  • In what ways are we building or breaking down our community through these conversations?

The essence of Conversational Leadership is to make sense of the complexity we face every day through conversations that have awareness and discussion similar to the questions above. The potential application of Conversational Leadership might be one aspect of the way to provide inner and outer peace for us all.

About the Author:  John Hovell is the CEO and co-founder of STRATactical Inc.
John earned his Certified Knowledge Manager certification in 2007, after having been a KM practitioner for nearly 10 years prior. He has earned multiple degrees in Management Science and Information Technology, and his Project Management Professional certification in 2008, and a certification in Organisation Development in Oxford, United Kingdom in 2016. He has published several book chapters, as well as magazine articles and other publications. He was once named “Top Young Trainer” of the year.  

John leads both the Certified Knowledge Manager and Certified Knowledge Specialist in Knowledge Transfer courses with KMI, and is proud to offer an interactive teaching approach based on individual readiness and needs.  

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