Culture through Conversation: 5 Starters for Leaders

Leadership happens in conversation. Leaders initiate conversations that would otherwise not take place in which the future changes for all stakeholders.

We use language to influence outcomes. Yet it’s not just the words we use that make the difference. Conversations happen in a context. The relationships that leaders cultivate create the context for conversations to happen effectively and efficiently. In this way, leaders define organizational culture—the relationship context in which work gets done and results are delivered.

Wherever we avoid conversations, we create a missing line of code. Wherever code is missing, we compromise our results.

Our conversations for relationship are foundational to all other conversations. In my coaching, I find many leaders skip relationship conversations, choosing instead to get right into conversations for action.

Relationships in an organization are defined by what we, in our respective roles, expect from each other. We have to proactively discuss these expectations in order to establish alignment. We also need to agree—ahead of time—that, in order to maintain alignment given the dynamic circumstances we’re operating in, either party in a relationship can convene a conversation to recalibrate alignment.

How we interact with each other relative to our strategy (what we’re mutually committed to) and the intended outcomes of that strategy determine the culture of our organization. Consider whether your leadership team comes together intentionally reinforcing relationships with each other. They can use the following starter topics as a guide. For whatever they do together models cultural norms for the rest of your organization.

Conversation For Relationship: 5 Starter Topics

  1. Role Clarity 
    Are we clear about what each other’s roles are? Are we making any assumptions that have not been grounded or confirmed in conversation?
  2. Expectations 
    Have we articulated in a conversation (not just in our own minds and with our assumptions) what we expect from each other in/from our respective roles?
  3. Alignment
    Once we’re clear about roles and expectations, we can declare that we’re aligned. What have we discussed and agreed to ahead of time about what we will do when—not if—we fall out of alignment due to external circumstances? Have we agreed to convene a conversation to recalibrate?
  4. Conflict
    When—not if—we encounter conflict or disagreement, are we committed to utilizing (not avoiding or dealing with) conflict for the sake of learning from each other?
  5. Shared Commitment 
    Are we able to extend the benefit of the doubt to each other with regard to each other’s commitment to the greater good of the organization (strategy), each other’s intentions, and each other’s competence?Have we established in some meaningful way that we’re committed to each other’s success in our respective roles? Are we able to provide each other with feedback (as in, “have each other’s back”) that might otherwise not be available to us given that we’re all poor observers of ourselves?