How you can be a voice among many in the conversation

The key is to bring more awareness to how your leadership affects the different conversations in your life.

Steffan Surdek
October 24, 2017
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I talk and write a lot about co-creative leadership these days. When people ask me to name the key traits of a co-creative leader, I usually list the following five skills:

  1. Being a voice among many in the conversation
  2. Unleashing the leaders around them
  3. Building capacity on their team
  4. Dancing with the system around them
  5. Encouraging learning by doing

This article is the first in a series that will explore each of the key skills co-creative leaders need to know. The first key skill we will explore together is how to be a voice among many in the conversation.

Notice your impact in conversations

What happens when you start talking in a meeting? Does the conversation end and people turn your way? Do you feel forced to speak last so that you feel everyone had their chance to say what they needed to say? Did you ever notice that when you do that, you are keeping the hammer of having the last word in a different way? Having the last word is one form of impact you can have.

For a couple of weeks, take the time to measure the impact of what you say in meetings. At least once a day, reflect on meetings you were a part of. Notice what you said and the impact you had when you said it. Was it the impact you wanted to have? What could you have done or said differently?

Begin by noticing your impact for a few weeks, don't change anything right away. Hone into your true impact by validating what you are noticing by asking others. Start making changes only when you have a better understanding of your impact.

Make small changes and, for each, measure what happens before making another change. Change can start as easily as inviting the group you are with to challenge your ideas and not consider your input as a final decision.

It can also happen by being more supportive of others' ideas instead of bringing your own ideas to the table. The key is bringing more awareness to what you are doing.

Take responsibility for your contribution

Another form of self-awareness is noticing your contribution to conversations. In group meetings, when you say something, what happens? Does it help the conversation move forward? Does it grind the conversation to a halt? Does it cause distractions?

I often work with groups who include a lot of joking and sarcasm in their meetings. When I challenge them on it, they often tell me that I am being too stiff and lack a sense of humour.

Here is the thing though: What is the impact of the sarcasm? Is it really a joke or is it a message to someone in the room? Is it helping the conversation move forward or is it causing the conversation to derail?

The invitation I make to teams is not to be stiff and humourless. I ask them to share responsibility for making the conversation useful and productive. I also ask them to raise the level of their discussion above jokes and sarcasm.

Remember, the level of discussion occurring is partly a reflection of you as a leader. Take the time to understand how you contribute to meetings. If you are among the disruptors, take a closer look at why you are doing it. Is your personal discomfort with a situation causing you to act this way or say certain things?

As a leader, you should start taking responsibility for your contribution in meetings. This will set an example for others and will make it easier for you to hold other people accountable as well.

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Value the contributions of others

Co-creative leaders also need to recognize the contributions of others in meetings. How are they supporting the conversation? How are they allowing others to contribute to the meeting? How well are they listening to others?

If you see behaviours that you appreciate, take the time to name them out loud. This provides real-life examples others can relate to. It also provides recognition and appreciation for people in your examples.

Valuing contribution is also paying close attention to what people are saying. When someone brings up an interesting idea, focus on how the group can build on it.

Part of the challenge in meetings with many intelligent people is that many want their idea to win. So instead of acknowledging an idea on the table, some people override it with their own idea.

When you see situations like this occur, help the group see this and focus on one idea at a time.

Accept the awkwardness

I realize what I am asking is both very easy to say and potentially hard to do in real life. You will find that it takes humility and courage to do some of these things.

You may not find it easy to have your ideas challenged. You may actually be reacting to these challenges right now and that would be part of your impact. It might not be easy for you to invite your team to do this as well, as this would be showing vulnerability.

As a leader, improving your personal contribution can be uncomfortable. You will need some courage, vulnerability and patience.

Here is the biggest thing I want you to remember: You have a leadership role for a reason, be that your work experience, skills or something else. Although servant leadership is about being in service to others, you do not need to hold back all the time.

It means you need to be able to be a voice among many in conversations, not the voice with the final say.

How much are you a voice among many in the conversations in your organization? What could be different if you could be a voice that enables co-creative leadership?

This article was originally published on through the Forbes Coaches Council in September 2017.