Today’s session was delivered by an external consultancy, Dawn Parkin Solutions, who, at the last minute and because of the university’s pending staff restructure, added the related concept of courageous conversations into the programme. Running throughout the session as a theme was a pending, difficult conversation we had been asked to think about beforehand so that we could develop a strategy for conducting that conversation as a result of the day’s work. Relating to my project attached to the course, I had in mind a meeting between myself, one of the associate directors of the service and the head of a department about making accessibility improvements to online learning materials.
The session began with an exploration of leadership styles and the factors which can influence the effectiveness of a collaborative or courageous conversation, such as the need to share power and trust people outside of your area to make the right decisions about it, the need for openness and honesty, and the transference of emotion – that is, letting go of any preconceived emotions or expectations you have about someone before starting a conversation lest it pre-judge the outcome. We also discussed the limitations of such conversations, when you need hold back some information for political reasons for example, or when having a conversation with someone you have management responsibility for. In such cases courageous conversations may be more appropriate.
A suggested starting point for such conversations, in a performance review scenario, was to ask something along the lines of ‘how do you think you add value?’ Followed up with questions to tease out what evidence they were basing their self-assessment on if the response doesn’t fit with your own perceptions of how they are performing.
In the afternoon we discussed Hershey and Blanchard’s sources of power, namely:
- Personal Referent (a charismatic, confident leader who inspires others to follow them);
And how to analysis your own sources of power and that of the people you will be having a collaborative conversation with. For example, in the conversation I have been planning I have Information, Expert and, to an extent, Reward power, whereas the associate director has Legitimate, Coercive and Connection power.
Finally we discussed the differences between push and pull influencing styles and the relative effectiveness of each. This discussion was based on a pre-sessional activity in which we were asked to rate our response to a number of statements from one to five depending on how accurately the statement relates to our actions. For the Pull style my score was 53 out of 72, and for Push 45 out of 72. In both cases this indicates a ‘tendency to use the style’. Our discussion focused on the fact that there is a time and place for both techniques and when to use each. Push styles are, for example, most effective when used for proposing solutions and giving information, but can also be used to attack or ignore others which are self-evidently ineffective. Pull styles are more effective for listening, questioning and building solutions collaboratively, and ineffective when used to avoid a problem. We were introduced to some research that has shown that for maximum effectiveness only one style should be used in any given conversation as there can be a cancelling out effect if you try and use both together.
For post session reading we were given an article which argued for the effectiveness of collaborative leadership styles and which identified six attributes of collaborative leadership:
- Collective Decision Making;
- Quick Thinking;
- Building Relationships;
- Handling Conflict.