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MBWA has a new name: Conversational Leadership (sheesh!)

Case Studies of Our Work With

Management by walking around has a new name, according to Professor Boris Groysberg of Harvard Business School. In his new book Talk, Inc., he has re-labeled interactive, engaged management communications as “Management by Conversation.”

This puts a new label on old goods, but if this new spin has the effect of getting more managers (at all levels) out of their chairs and in front of employees having productive conversations, more power to him!

We are pleased that he took the step of saying “trusted leaders” can make productive use of conversational leadership, because guarded conversations between people who don’t trust one another don’t generate much useful action.

Here are some of the quotes from Prof. Groysberg that wake up the echoes of older works about leadership development:

“In many cases you have an executive team that’s so sure about company strategy, but then you go inside the organization and find that nobody else has a clue,” says Groysberg. “Nobody knows what strategic conversations are actually unfolding.”

“In an economic environment where there is so much uncertainty, the senior management of a company might not know where the company should be going in three years. But your frontline customer-facing people might. Having communication that goes bottom-up is just as important as having communication that goes top-down.”

Both problems, and conversely both opportunities, are as old as the hills, and demand the same solutions. To just rattle off a few of them:

  • Get senior managers out of their glass bowls and ivory towers and in front of frontline employees on a regular basis.
  • Change the mindset of leaders from one of “I know best” to “I know a few things, but need to stress test them against the marketplace to see if they are really true.”
  • Banish negative responses to those who substantively challenge corporate orthodoxy.
  • Lay no blame for errors in execution. Seek the cause of errors, but only to fix them.

In Professor Groysberg’s defense, a lot of senior and junior executives in the 21st Century still do not understand why a hierarchical, command and control corporate structure fails to generate much more than 60% of the total possible contribution from their employees. His message of inclusiveness and trust still needs to be delivered, a truth that does frustrate us!

Explore our Foundations of Excellence philosophy for the basic principles of day-to-day personal leadership like communication that counts, unshakable trust and the pursuit of truth. These mindsets are as useful now as they have been in the twenty-five years we have been teaching them!

What do you think about “conversational leadership”? Is it a useful new packaging, or just another in a line of leadership publications that has gotten too long?


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