What is needed to call dialogue forth?

Group of leaders calling forth dialogueHaving worked with leaders and their teams for over 15 years, a crucial insight I’ve had is that the ability to foster better dialogue is a critical skill. Holding powerful meeting spaces to navigate critical business challenges and find solutions that strengthen the whole system is pivotal to better performance. In this post I share some practical suggestions about how you can create the conditions in your team that will improve problem-solving, decision-making and innovative thinking.

What do we mean by dialogue?

Bill Isaacs, one of the world’s leading authorities on dialogue, and a former colleague, writes in his seminal (1999) book, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together:

“Dialogue, as I define it, is a conversation with the centre, not sides. It is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before. It lifts us out of polarization in into a greater common sense, and is thereby a means for accessing the intelligence and correlated power of groups of people.” (p. 19)

How do we have effective feedback conversations?

An effective feedback conversation between a couple of colleagues‘So much can happen in a single conversation’ a participant reflected at the Leading Systemic Dialogue programme I co-led last week. We were at the end of a full and lively two-days. We’d had some engaging dialogue including about some of the big issues of the day.

A conversation can make (or break) a relationship. It can spark a new idea. It can be the catalyst for change. This is particularly true when it comes to a feedback conversation.

The benefits of well-timed and carefully given feedback are huge. It energizes us, engages us and keeps our motivation running high. The damage caused by poorly-given feedback is also enormous. Someone recently told me the story of some critical feedback she’d received in a roughshod way seven years ago. The sting was still palpable, despite all the positive feedback she’d also been given over the years. She was left questioning her abilities as well as her resilience. How can we handle feedback conversations more effectively so that we get the benefits without the stumbling blocks?

Talking together about big issues – Unlocking collective intelligence

Circle of leaders in dialogue unlocking collective intelligenceWhat does it take for a group of people to talk about what really matters? How can a group of leaders have more collective intelligence than the individuals present? What practical tools help leadership teams to improve their dialogue? On the eve of our next Leading Systemic Dialogue programme, I’ve been reflecting on these questions.

To agree a new strategy, articulate a compelling vision or create a new product, a deeper quality of dialogue is needed than often occurs in organisations. Creating the conditions where innovations emerge is an art – and science – that is underutilised by many leaders. It is, however, a capacity that can be learned.

Enabling better dialogue

Group of leaders engaging in better dialogueWorking with global leadership teams, I have seen the big difference it makes when people are able to talk about what really matters. With better dialogue, fresh ideas spark, collective energies align and a new future emerges.

I’ve also seen time and time again how people struggle to talk about the big issues. David Bohm, the quantum physicist, who later in life developed some powerful insights about human interaction, observed:

‘In our modern culture men and women are able to interact with one another in many ways: they can sing, dance and play together with little difficulty. However, their ability to talk together about subjects that matter deeply to them seems invariably to lead to dispute, division and often to violence. In our view this condition points to a deep and pervasive defect in the process of human thought.’

How can we move beyond breakdown?

With the global challenges we face — social inequality, climate change and world hunger — it is a critical moment for cross-sector collaboration. Protecting people from systemic risks such as cyber attacks calls for individuals, teams and organisations to work together. Given how difficult it can be to talk together about tough issues, what can be done?

A Bridge to the Future

We are living through intense, uneasy and extraordinary times. Darkness seems to be falling wherever we look, and yet there are pinpricks of light too. Never has the potential for humanity to address urgent and global issues — economic inequality, societal polarisation and environmental dangers — been greater. And never has the risk of systemic failure — whether from cyberattacks, stand-offs between nations, or the catastrophic consequences of climate change — been higher. We are poised right on the edge of destiny-changing times.

What will it take for our collective and individual lives to cascade down a path of shared prosperity rather than increasing inequality? How can we make a successful transition to a truly global society where each person has a sense of belonging and right place? How can individuals, nations and organisations have a larger sense of their role in the world without becoming imperialistic or narcissistic?

A new season of great conversations

This photo of a suspension footbridge leading straight ahead through a forest to a glowing dawn illustrates the theme of purpose-led leadership taking us to a better future.I trust this finds you well and thriving as the new season comes in.

There is a real sense of a ‘new term’ starting so I wish you every success with your own new directions.

Over recent years, my own leadership work has started to take a more defined shape. To help build a bridge to a better future for us all, I am working with leaders, teams and organisations in the following three ways:

How leaders can build trust across the whole organisation

“Trust, not authority, is the only glue that will hold organizations together in a diverse, global, technology-empowered world” Paul Polman, CEO Unilever

ask more questions poster on office wall

Building trust not only between individuals but also systemically – between teams and across a whole organization – is vital for enhanced business performance and employee wellbeing. I offer three practical solutions for increasing trust through better quality dialogue, more constructive challenge and healthy interactions between teams at different levels.

Trust is a hot topic in business. Since the 2008 financial crash and a seemingly never-ending stream of scandals such as bribery in big pharm companies and the Volkswagen emissions debacle, there has been a proliferation of ‘trust’ events to explore how to restore a better relationship between companies and customers. In a recent article in the FT (18 July ’17), Michael Skapinker argues that shifting the focus from talking about trust to building trustworthy organizations through changed behaviour is the right next step. I wholeheartedly agree. 

Leading Systemic Dialogue: From Silos to the Whole System

Co-authored with Edward L. Rowland

What is Systemic Dialogue?

Group of people in an office looking out over cityscape“Leadership is about being better able to listen to the whole than anyone else can”
Otto Scharmer (2009) Theory U: Learning from the Future as It Emerges

During these times of upheaval, the need to move forward in alignment with others has never been greater. The leadership challenges of today are too complex for any one person to solve alone. In our rapidly changing, increasingly uncertain and globally networked world, leadership needs to be less about individual heroics and more about listening to – and mobilising – collective potential.

Developing the skillset of what we call ‘systemic dialogue’ is critically important for leaders and their teams, whether they want to create a new vision, implement a new strategy or shift their performance. We define systemic dialogue as:

The artform and skillset of holding powerful meeting spaces to navigate critical business challenges and find solutions that strengthen the system as a whole. 

Purpose-Led Leadership: The Three Adventures

Co-authored with Edward L. Rowland

Tapping into Purpose

Image of a circle of parachuters holding hands against a backdrop of a cloudy sky“It’s at the juncture where organizational purpose and individual calling start to resonate with and reinforce each other that truly extraordinary things happen.” Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations

This post explores how we can tap more fully into personal purpose and organizational purpose, so that they align with and resource each other. When we bring these powerful and compelling impulses together, we create inspiring organizations where people love to work and attract customers who are energized by what’s on offer. Purpose-led leadership is the new frontier in where progressive organisations are going.

During these times of turbulent change, many of us want to discover our true work in this troubled world of ours. Having the courage to follow this deeper impulse is the key that unlocks the door to our deeper fulfillment and creativity – renewed engagement with our work and career and a stronger sense of satisfaction with our lives.

Research shows – very simply – that people who follow a calling in their work have better life outcomes than those who don’t. A recent study underwrites the psychological and physical benefits of following our passion even more clearly. Writing in the most recent edition of the Research Digest of the British Psychological Society, Alex Fradera concludes, “Ignoring a calling hurts you.”

Cultures of Purpose: Developing Systemic Leadership

By Sarah Rozenthuler & Edward L. Rowland
Originally published on LinkedIn, Oct 14, 2015

“Leadership is discovering the company’s destiny and having the courage to follow it… Companies that endure have a noble purpose” Joe Jaworski

spider-web-net-grid-silk-drops-dew-morning-dawnCo-creating purposeful organisations is a new frontier in organisational development. This post taps into the growing body of evidence about the financial, social and psychological benefits of creating “cultures of purpose.” It explores how leaders can attune their organisation to a rapidly shifting global marketplace and catalyse purposeful action by developing four core capacities of “systemic leadership.”