Conversational or Directional Leader?

Are you a Conversational Leader or a Directional Leader?  I was watching a You Tube with two of my favorite authors and leaders, John Maxwell and Simon Sinek.  Two brilliant minds having a conversation around leadership.  Here is the link (1 Hour), worth the time.

John Maxwell posed the question, Are you a Conversational Leader or Directional Leader?  That made me think, what a great blog to research and discuss!  Here are my findings.  What are your thoughts? 

Conversational Leadership

Conversational Leadership is simply a way forward that recognizes we are dealing with a new environment – a complex, changing world that requires different ways of seeing the world, thinking, and behaving.  A single leader or small group does not have the ability to make sense of everything that is going on within an organization or the world.  We need to be more conversational with those in our organization, who may see things differently or have meaningful work experiences or who have valuable information to share that would impact decisions, planning and strategies.  A conversational leader wants others to talk and fully listens to their staff members, asks a question and genuinely cares about the answer.

Conversational leaders promote dialogue.

The challenge?  This takes time, patience, and effort!  Many leaders, especially right now, think to themselves, “I DON’T HAVE TIME!”  It is exactly during these times, we need to slow down, not let urgency run/rule our decisions and behaviors and take the time to converse with those around us. Your team may have valuable and important information to share that could actually save you time in the long run.  Noodle on that one for a while…

Conversational Leadership Characteristics

  • See leadership as a practice not a position
  • Create a more participatory culture, where staff members contribute to the vision, plans & problem solving
  • Create a culture of open communication, (Up and down), vulnerability, accountability, and trust
  • The leaders truly care for their staff members
  • Create a safe environment where all admit mistakes, take responsibility
  • More face to face conversations (Zoom), less emails and texting
  • Improves decision making and strategizing through conversations
  • Leads through influence, which is earned over time
  • Builds relationships through meaningful conversations and respect of others
  • Takes the time to better understand staff members and their wins and challenges
  • Engages different perspectives to solve problems
  • Communicates the plan, checks back in, and follows through on removing barriers for staff
  • Builds community within the organization, where human beings truly care about each other
  • Makes decisions, with information from staff, and cascades those decisions with clarity, confidence, and respect
  • Listens, Listens, Listens

“Conversational Leadership is about appreciating the extraordinary but underutilized power of conversation, recognizing that we can all practice leadership and adopt a conversational approach to the way in which we live and work together in an increasingly complex world.” 

David Gurteen

Directional Leadership

Now, let’s take a look at Directional Leadership.  The Business Dictionary Definition:

“An instructional type of managerial style characterized by a leader who tells subordinate staff what they are expected to do and how to perform the tasks.  A directive leadership style might be helpful for a manager within a business where their subordinate staff members have jobs that are not particularly specialized, so they need more guidance to avoid uncertainty.” 

Directional leaders give marching orders.

Clarity is the gift a directional leader gives to an organization. A directional leader is driven by purpose, values bright and helpful ideas, and is determined to push things forward. Without directional leaders on a team, purpose and direction will wane over time. 

“Tells subordinate staff what they are expected to do and how to perform the tasks”  sounds like micromanaging to me. I don’t even like the words “subordinate staff”; this feels very hierarchical to me.  Aren’t we all human beings who have similar dreams, hopes, and concerns and truly want to be successful?  Most staff members want to do their best, help the company and the people within it achieve results!  This puts tremendous stress and responsibility on Managers, Supervisors, and the Leadership team.

Driven by purpose is great, but is that purpose in alignment with the Values and Vision of the organization and are the people in alignment with those same Values and Vision?  Or is it a personal agenda attached to ego? 

“Determined to push things forward” — at what cost?  Is this push at the cost of the staff members, the customers, or the business itself?  Yes, getting things done is imperative; it is the “how” that can make or break the culture within an organization.  And the culture will absolutely impact the customer!  It seems to me that pushing avoids collaboration and reduces morale over time.

Directional Leadership can provide:

  • Structure to unstructured tasks
  • Emphasizes safety and security
  • Rules and regulations are the primary emphasis
  • Creates clarity with role descriptions
  • Ensures workers will complete their tasks

Stay Flexible, but Focus on Conversational

Please don’t misunderstand me, there are times where being a directive leader is important and appropriate. For example, clear and specific direction is appropriate in a crisis or emergency. However, I think that, long term, Conversational Leadership is more effective at building a healthy culture.  As leaders, we must learn to adapt and pivot in any given moment. Building the confidence of the staff in the leadership team takes building relationships, which is the Conversational Leadership Style. 

John Maxwell said in his YouTube: “Crisis is the great revealer. In a crisis, everything is revealed instantaneously.  Separates the pretenders from the players with leadership.  Players are all about the people, the pretenders are all about themselves, they typically have an agenda, how can I look good.”

Followers want to know 3 things from their leader: 

  • Do you like me?
  • Can you help me?
  • Can I trust you?

A leader needs to be proactive and ask those questions of themselves: 

  • Do I really love and care for the people I lead?  How do I demonstrate that every day?
  • How can I help my people grow?
  • What do I do to build trust every day?

In my book, 5 Languages of Leadership, I refer to the Conversational Leadership Style as “People Centric” and the Directional Leadership Style as “Commanding”.  From my perspective it is important for a leader to assess each situation/challenge and flex into the needed style for that situation or person.  This is where Emotional Intelligence and Business Acumen meet. 

Today’s Leadership Challenge

Choose to be a Conversational Leader the majority of the time instead of a Directional Leader.  Take the time to pause and ask yourself, who do I need to be in this moment to best handle this situation, circumstance, or challenge along with the people involved?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.