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Four conversations to build your team leadership

Nov 23. 2014
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By Siraya Kongsompong
Senior con

5,009 Viewed

One key role of the successful leader is to develop others. The quality of your leadership is thus counted from the number of leaders, rather than the number of followers, within your team.

The tricky part is that leaders often try to teach their team what they should and should not do, but in the end wonder why their team cannot perform as well as they have been taught.

In my experience of more than a decade in the area of learning and people development, I have seen many leaders misunderstand or have a limited approach on how they can help their people grow. Therefore, in this article, I would like to broaden leaders’ perspectives on what alternatives they can choose to develop their people instead of the traditional approach, which is teaching.

You might be surprised to know that the simplest yet most powerful technique to grow and groom your leaders is to have the right conversation with them for different purposes.

The four leadership conversations I will be introducing are powerful communication tools that enhance learning and help people develop themselves. I divide the conversation into two perspectives according to the time frame (past versus future) and the communication types (asking vs telling).

1 Feedback conversation (talking about the past)

When leaders use this skill to give their teams feedback, they help the team realise what happened in the past, what the team did well and what not.

2 Teaching conversation (talking about the future)

This is one of the most widely used conversations by several leaders. When you teach people, you guide them with solutions, what they should do or should not do, when they face a particular situation in the future.

3 Reflecting conversation (asking about the past)

Literally, through this method, leaders ask their people to share what they see or think about themselves; hence, reflecting on their own behaviour. Therefore, instead of telling them what they did right or wrong, leaders let their people come up with their own self-reflections. This approach works well when you are dealing with people who are your seniors. Plus, reflection can help turn their experiences into insights.

However, it is necessary to say that there’s a certain “do and don’t” guideline on when you should use this approach, and on whom. For a start, don’t use this type of conversation if the purpose is to find the root cause (Who did this? Why did it happen?). This is because doing so could lead to a defensive rather than reflective approach. On the other hand, do ask them what they did and did not do well rather than blaming them for doing something wrong, as this will prevent them from seeing themselves as the victim and empower them to take responsibility.

4 Coaching conversation (asking about the future)

After the team has realised and reflected on what happened, the leader can then progress to the future step in taking action and achieving the results. One of the best methods to inspire people to commit is to ask them what they want to do. This process is to groom leaders by letting them do the fishing (finding their own solutions) instead of giving them the fish (providing advice). Similarly, when you are coaching someone, it is like you are empowering him or her to take full ownership without judgement.

However, some leaders ask their people to share their thoughts or ideas but don’t really respect those ideas. If this is the case, then don’t do it at all, as this could cause trust issues afterwards. On the contrary, make sure to ask questions that could lead to new behaviour, such as what they will do differently next time after they’ve learned or experienced something.

Now, you discover that the simplest yet very powerful alternative in developing your leaders is through conversations. My last and final note here is that, given the four conversations you’ve just discovered, before you are going to say something – please WAIT (ask yourself “Why Am I Talking?”) and speak only with a purposeful conversation.

Siraya Kongsompong is senior consultant of APM Group’s Leadership & Culture Business Unit and an ICF professional certified coach. She can be reached at

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