Here, in the second half of 2022, the Great Resignation is still going strong, job hunting is still a buyer’s market and organizations are still struggling to attract and retain good people. Organizations must find a new way to set themselves apart — because a good salary by itself isn’t the most appealing offer in today’s hiring market.
Many of today’s best candidates are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want truth. Trust. Respect. A sense of belonging. Give and take. They want to be seen and heard. To this end, the most important skill for every leader to develop right now is the ability to engage in quality conversations with their people.
My son, Scott, has demonstrated this skill frequently since he took over as president of our company in January 2020, just before the COVID-19 lockdown. Frequent and transparent communication from the top has been a key part of shepherding our people — and our organization — through this most challenging time in our history. The vulnerable, forthright approach Scott has modeled has given our people the confidence to know that together we will continue to make progress toward a successful future.
We have a term for the ability to engage in constructive dialogue under difficult circumstances: conversational capacity. Building your leaders’ capacity to keep the lines of communication open in the face of distractions or challenges will improve innovation, performance and morale of individuals and teams while enhancing the workplace experience. The key to building conversational capacity is learning to behave in a way that balances candor with curiosity.
Candor can be a gift
Whether a leader is addressing an entire company or having a one-on-one meeting with a direct report, each person they are speaking with wants to hear the truth. If a leader tries to slant the truth, it usually backfires.
Speaking with candor is a concept many people may not be comfortable with. They think it means being outspoken or ill-mannered. But, for leaders who are humble, open minded and interested in diverse points of view, candor can be a welcome gift for the person on the other end of the conversation. They don’t have to wonder what their leader is thinking or where they stand. When delivered with respect and humility, candor is a valuable tool for effective communication.
Be curious and listen carefully
When leaders demonstrate curiosity during conversations, it shows that they are interested in what the other person has to say. They are seeking to understand more about the other person’s viewpoint. Remaining curious in a conversation means the leader is open-minded, inquisitive and eager to learn.
Conversations that go only one way don’t make sense. Leadership is about we, not me. Leaders who make conversations all about them, who talk at their people instead of with them, are doing themselves a disservice. They are missing out on relationships they could be having with their people. When a leader asks a question of a direct report — something as simple as “What do you think?”— it can make a positive difference in how the person feels about that leader.
Asking people for their opinion helps them feel involved while also giving the leader insight into the way the person’s mind works. People want to tell their leader what they think, but most will wait to be asked.
The other side of expressing curiosity is listening. When people are asked to describe the key characteristics of a great leader, being a good listener is always one of the first mentioned. When people know their leader will really listen to their ideas, they will share their best thinking. But when leaders only talk about themselves and act like they have all the answers, people will keep quiet — and probably search for a better leader.
The pandemic has caused a general feeling of instability for more than two and a half years. When people who are already feeling unstable about things suspect their leader isn’t being straight with them or doesn’t care about who they are or what they think, it makes it worse.
The often repeated adage, “People don’t leave organizations, they leave managers,” is as true as it ever was — but the stakes are higher now. High-performing people seeking new opportunities are being more careful about finding the right fit for themselves.
Today’s best leaders know how to balance candor and curiosity when engaging in quality conversations. They are upfront and honest while also being humble and open-minded. These are the leaders who will be able to attract and keep today’s best candidates.
This article was originally published by Chief Learning Officer, Talent Management’s sister publication.