Dialog is about learning...

curiosity How are you leading your team with dialog versus debate?

...Debate is about winning.

We’ve spent a good deal of time of late speaking to the importance of critical thinking for 21st Century leadership to achieve sustainable success. In the new reality of the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) business environment, the leader’s ability to separate the information wheat from the information chaff is crucial. As important as critical thinking is to effective leadership, the ability to both share and evolve their thinking with their followers is just as important!

In this discussion, we outline some key ideas from our own experiences to enable critical thinking starting with the ideas from the title. We’ll begin with dialog:

  • Dialog is about Learning ~ We all intellectually know that learning can’t occur if the leader is always talking and not listening. It occurs at the outer edge of the leader’s knowledge which we wrote about several years ago here. True dialog requires effective listening (not just hearing) such that the leader understands “ground truth” within their organization. It begins with the leader’s attitude oriented to being open-minded and willing to put aside what they think they know about any specific situation. Inherent in doing this well is communicating their assumptions initially before communicating any decisions. Speaking last has also proven effective to avoid the impact of the status effect. Lastly, rewarding and recognizing those who share alternate ideas and insights fosters a level of psychological safety that supports an effective learning dialog!
  • Debate is about Winning ~ Not a day goes by in the business world where disagreement will not occur. As we coach teams, we position conflict as both a human dynamic to be managed (vs. eliminated) and that conflict is not always destructive or negative. However, when a leader’s attitude focuses on always being right or winning the conversation, then the ensuing debate will most likely be destructive in nature. From our experience, to avoid the trap of wanting to be right and the ensuing confirmation bias, leaders must consciously focus on the core issue versus on the specific points put forth by others in the discussion. This helps avoid the trap of finding fault with other’s input and seeing the value of input not yet known by the leader. When leaders leverage their power position to enable open discussion of ideas and options, the greater their followers feel vested in the team’s overall success!
  • Be Curious, not Judgmental ~ For those who follow the show “Ted Lasso”, they will recognize this quote from the show. Judgmental leaders are quick to opine before understanding the entire story. We wrote about curiosity as having its own reason for existing several months ago and you can read it again here. Curious leaders are comfortable asking powerful open-ended questions to learn what they don’t know about any given situation before weighing in on their decision. We coach our leaders to leverage questions that begin with “What” or “How” to engage in effective dialog. Questions that begin with “Who”, “When”, or “Where” typically get answered with short answers that actually suppress dialog. More often than not, questions that begin with “Why” will turn an open dialog into a defensive debate and lose the opportunity for additional learning to occur!

We work in an information-rich, knowledge-poor business environment. The leader’s ability to leverage critical thinking to understand the true context of a situation is key to sorting through the noise. It enables them to make effective knowledge-based decisions that directly contribute to the overall sustainable success of their team!

How are you leading your team with dialog versus debate? If you are not sure, we can help!

Lead Well!

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Friday, 14 June 2024