Learn to lead better discussions

ID-100198985Over the last few years, we’ve implemented leadership programs for thousands of people and trained hundreds of coaches. There’s one issue that turns out to be the biggest and most consistent barrier to success: Managers and coaches are unable to lead good group discussions. They either talk too much (sucking all the air out of a group), or they engage in serial dialogues (talking first to one person, and then the next.) The result is that few ideas get shared and people feel disempowered because the manager is always controlling both the process and content of the discussion. One of the real traps is that when someone asks a question, the manager provides the answer. There seem to be several reasons for this:

  • Managers need to be the experts.
  • Managers aren’t confident that their people can generate good ideas.
  • Managers are used to being “the boss” and being the center of the discussion.
  • For new managers, they’re used to being rewarded for their expertise, not for their group leadership.
Even when leaders want to engage their groups, they don’t know how to create a good group discussion. We have to systematically teach managers how to empower groups by asking questions that generate group discussion. This includes questions and comments addressed to the group such as:
  • What do you see as particularly meaningful in this topic?
  • Can someone please expand on that idea (without summarizing the idea)?
  • Does someone have the same or different perspective?
  • How do these comments align with your past experience?
  • What do you think the issues are, and how might we as a team manage them?
Whenever someone makes a comment, the comment should be praised and immediately turned back to the group for response. Here’s the hard part: Great leaders shouldn’t comment on the content, other than to offer praise. They must manage the discussion process and lead others to develop the content. This produces better ideas and morale. The bottom line is: Be a discussion leader, not a content expert. Image courtesy of franky242 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

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