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Great Leaders Must Be Great Conversationalists

Early in my career, someone once told me that to be a great leader, you must be a great conversationalist. I thought to myself, that’s easy enough, I love to talk therefore I must be a great leader. To my dismay, nothing could be further from the truth. I should have known that greatness in anything is not that easily attained.

Yes there are those who have always been natural leaders, but for most of us, to be a great leader is a long journey often speckled with the occasional failure. It’s a learning process where experience coupled with intuition can develop into great insight. Interestingly enough these are also the exact traits required to be a great conversationalist.

Allow me to elaborate, Merriam-Webster defines a conversationalist as “one who converses a great deal; someone skilled in conversation”. So essentially if you consider yourself a conversationalist then you would by virtue of definition be someone who excels in the art of conversation. Many of us can say we not only excel in the art of conversation but through experience some of us would be considered savants, myself included. So having mastered the art of talking through a lifetime of experience, the next step is to evaluate our level of intuition.

Intuition by definition means “immediate apprehension or cognition; the power or faculty of attaining direct knowledge without evident rational thought and inference”. Unfortunately this trait is much harder to obtain because it requires continuous study in order to achieve a sense of knowing that is outside usual intellectual thinking. For example an intuitive leader by definition will attain knowledge not readily evident under normal cognitive processes. This ability to gain knowledge through a sense of understanding is called awareness. Awareness IS the key to intuition and in today’s general mindset of “to each his own” or “look out for number one” awareness has become compromised therefore hindering our intuition.

Fortunately for women we tend to be better at intuition. Granted this is an overly broad statement and there are certainly exceptions, but statistically and organically it rings true. Maybe it’s because women in general are more nurturing and nurturing is a form of gaining and developing knowledge through awareness.

This is not to say that men don’t possess intuition because many men have a sense of knowing that is not readily evident through usual cognitive processes. Each of us possesses some level of intuition. The clincher is in order to be a great leader you must achieve a sense of knowing through awareness of those around you. For business leaders this would be your employees, and the more employees you have the more clouded your intuition can become.

The good news gentlemen, is that you are better conversationalists. Yes, ladies its true, men generally excel in the act of conversing much better then we do. Again, allow me to elaborate, Merriam-Webster defines a conversation as “communication that allows people with different points of views to learn from each other; oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions or ideas”. When men converse, its more results-oriented even in social conversations. It’s about sharing information and gaining information. The process is linear. Women on the other hand rarely talk in a linear fashion. Women tend to think spherically and therefore express themselves in the same way. And as much as we hate to admit it, women are never truly married to a particular topic and often change topics mid-sentence and carry-on as if not missing a beat. Some women also tend to engage in conversations from a “wanting to be liked” perspective which can become the driving motivation behind the conversation thereby directing the correspondence into a specific direction. This act of spherical speaking and hidden motivators does create an important problem, the lack of listening. Great conversationalists must also be excellent listeners, a common void for many of us.

Which brings me back to the most important trait found in great leaders – insight. To be truly insightful requires listening. Only through careful listening can we comprehend the inner nature of things. To put it succinctly, listening leads to better awareness, therefore better intuition, developing our insight and ultimately our leadership. This is why the pregnant pause is a popular practice. It allows for that exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions and ideas through engaged listening. Listening my friends is where all the power lies. If you are not practiced at listening then you will miss key information, thoughts, ideas that could help you in being a better leader and frankly a better person.

So knowing what we know, how do we become better conversationalist in order to sharpen our leadership traits? Here are a few tips I recommend:

1. Focus on Listening to Gain Insight. Practice conversing, not just talking, with anyone and everyone. Practice conversing with no distractions and be in the moment. Engage the pregnant pause. Respond with more then a word or two to incite others to share information or thoughts.
2. Hone your Awareness to Develop Intuition. When engaging in a conversation write down or pay attention to two or three things you learned in the conversation you didn’t know before. Ask questions to glean more information about the person your speaking with. Jot down noises/sounds or if face to face expressions or gestures you hear or see during the conversation (you may want to let your conversation partner know you’re taking notes or jot them down later.)
3. Focus on a Topic to Stay in the Moment. Focus on one topic to its completion. If talking with a friend or relative and the subject goes off track, bring it back around and close the topic before starting a new one. Speaking linearly will aid in better listening.
4. Have an Objective in Mind and State it. Being a good conversationalist means getting to the point. Say more with less. This is especially important in business. Have an objective in mind and state it up front even in social conversations (exp: “I wanted to ask your opinion about …”)

In the end some will argue that being a good conversationalist doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being a good leader. In some cases this is true. However, if you want to be a GREAT leader, being a great conversationalist will create more inroads to accomplish stronger leadership skills. People react more positively to leaders that are approachable, open, friendly, and attuned. Being a great conversationalist allows for the “people side” of every leader to shine through and gives others something to relate to and connect with. This kind of power is known as charisma and having charisma, my friends, is never a bad thing!

Created by: Melissa Grandchamp

[Melissa Grandchamp is the President of P3 offering expertise in the area of HR, Organizational Development and Leadership Coaching]

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