Our lives are a series of relationships, the success or failure of which happens one conversation at a time. The same is true for our organizations. The quality of the conversations that executive teams have among themselves will either help their organization succeed, under-perform or potentially fail.
One of my favorite leadership books on this topic is Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott. Does the word “Fierce” scare you? It shouldn’t. The lack of it is what should scare the living daylights out of you. As defined on the book’s cover “fierce” means “robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager and unbridled.”
I must admit, I like these words a lot. I would go so far as to suggest that these words describe some of the core competencies of life, let alone leadership.
Gradually, Then Suddenly
The book starts with a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s, The Sun Also Rises where one of the characters is asked:
“How did you go bankrupt?”
He answers, “Gradually, then suddenly.”
If you think about businesses that fail, this is what often happens. Leaders have not been willing or are unable to have fierce conversations with themselves and therefore don’t make the tough and timely decisions required in a global marketplace characterized by high velocity change. This inability lulls everyone into a false sense of reality and gradually, then suddenly, the bottom can drop out.
Master The Courage To Interrogate Reality
Life, markets, plans, people and everything else you can possibly think of, changes. That is reality. An executive teams ability to constantly converse about the changes that they face takes courage. Successful executives know that this is true and that they as individuals, and the executive teams that they are on, have to have guts to lead. That means mastering the courage to interrogate reality and having the ability to say what needs to be said at the right time, in the right place, to the right people and in the right ways that create the right results.
5 Questions Executive Teams Should Be Asking Themselves Everyday
If you want to sleep well at night knowing that you are fulfilling your responsibility as an executive, make sure that you and your team are asking one another the following questions which are outlined in Susan’s book:
- What are we pretending not to know?
- What is the most important thing we should be talking about today?
- How are we behaving in ways guaranteed to produce the results we don’t want?
- What topics are we hoping don’t come up?
- What is the most important decision we’re facing? What is keeping us from making it?
Which Kind Of Organization Do You Want Create?
Executive teams set the tone and culture of an organization. If you commit to these questions and this process of interrogating reality, you will create a high performance organization. It will have these characteristics:
- Focused on results not just activities
- High levels of engagement (employee and customer) instead of “us versus them”
- Able to resolve issues collaboratively, succinctly and quickly as opposed to being overwhelmed by complexity and stuck
- Effectively confronting and transforming negative behaviors instead of a culture of either “terminal niceness” or worse, “the co-conspiracy of silence”
Which organization do you want to create?
Copyright 2014, Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.
Sheila Madden is an Executive and Career Coach and an Organization Effectiveness Consultant. She works with individual contributors and leaders at all stages of their careers to maximize performance, impact and happiness.