Self-Differentiated Leadership and Crucial Conversations

Self-Differentiated Leadership

Within any organisation, we see a variety of personalities and leadership styles, just as one would expect. But in reading and watching the videos on self-differentiated leadership and crucial conversations, I was reminded of an unfortunate situation that transpired a few years ago, at an institution I worked in previously. In this example, a faculty member was promoted to a position of departmental leadership based on the leadership he had shown up to that point. However, when placed in the position of department chair, he chose to ‘rule with an iron fist.’ (His words.) He chose to require that all of the faculty in the department use the same content to teach their courses, and required, removing all aspects of academic freedom. As a faculty member, he had been thoughtful and fair to his colleagues and his students. As a department leader, he demonstrated cronyism and intolerance. He reduced the course loads of some faculty members, He would “accidentally” exclude people from meetings so that departmental decisions were made by him, and supported by his friends. Faculty were dissatisfied. Many of them felt that they were being treated unfairly. The overall environment of that department became toxic. The behaviour of that individual could be likened to the virus in the video explaining Failure of Nerve. This individual lacked the tools to serve as part of a cohesive team; he clearly behaved as a differentiated organism, but like the virus example, he did not function as part of a team.

Having Crucial Conversations

In Crucial Conversations (Patterson, Grenny, Swizler, 2012), the authors tell us that a crucial conversation is comprised of three aspects:

  • High Stakes
  • High Emotions
  • Differing Opinions

In the example of the departmental leader above, the individual did not exhibit the desire to act on the opportunities that lead to crucial conversations, opting instead to make decisions based solely on his own opinion. This week’s readings and videos have helped me to recognize the importance of that crucial conversation opportunity.

Part of the concept of crucial conversations addresses our need to step back and think before we speak, and to consider each of the elements of crucial a conversation. We live in a culture of multi-tasking, and though our brains are really not equipped for that, it is our reality. Stepping back… taking a breath… allows us to collect our thoughts. We need to step away from our multi-tasking lifestyles when we are considering those crucial conversations.

Keeping all members of the organization informed at each step of the process is critical. And that does not stop when things get tough. Personalities differ, and certainly some people will feel threatened by the proposed changes. But by holding those crucial conversations, we can alleviate the behaviours that can jeopardise the success of the project. Yet because of the nature of the whirlwind (discussed in my previous post about The 4 Disciplines of Execution), we are constantly multitasking, which can potentially limit our brain resources that are needed for critical decision-making, and even jolt us into a survival  mode with some amygdala hijacking.

So here’s my brutal truth… Some things that I have learned while working in my current position…

  • I am older than my supervisor, and have a variety of different experiences. Sometimes when I speak to him, or in meetings where he is present, I am perceived as antagonistic or even aggressive.
  • When I mention things that I have learned from research throughout the years, I am dismissed.

4DX has equipped me with some critical tools, as has the Influencer Strategy. But as critical as those two strategies are, I have realised that Crucial Conversations is possibly more important for me than maybe any of the other topics we have discussed to this point. I have valid knowledge. I have innovative ideas. I am learning to be heard in a way that matters.

This has been really scary for me to admit. I know that I need to keep strengthening my confidence… because I do have that knowledge… innovative ideas. And I know that my ideas matter.