Leadership & Dialogue VI: Is dialogue just a leadership tool?

So far in this series of posts on leadership & dialogue?

– The core question is:  “How to lead for depth in the shallows of this age?”
– Real human dialogue seems to get killed or missed in action by Powerpoint in today’s organizations
– Conversation skills are crucial. But they are about getting your own agenda realized.
– Organization theorists describe dialogues as a conversation to the center, leading to new perspectives. They have no fixed ‘end term’.
– Such dialogues demand mastership in listening,  respecting, suspending judgment & voicing the center.

Part VI: is dialogue just a leadership tool?

Dialogue is not at the center of current leadership thinking. The word dialogue is not used once in the handbook on transformational leadership of Bernard Bass & Ronald Riggio*. Transformational leaders “stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and to develop their leadership capacity”. They are role models, give meaning, encourage innovation and are considerate for each individual concern. This leadership goes further than the transactional and situational ‘tit-for-tat’ behaviours. It’s close to theory on ‘servant’, ‘authentic’ and ‘charismatic’ leadership. And yet, no word about ‘dialogue’.

The same goes for the very coherent and pragmatic book on the different stages on leadership by Ram Charan e.a.**. This book approaches leadership as a process with transitions, e.g. from managing self to managing others, from managing a function to managing a business. Each transition has its challenge and thus the need to suspend old behavior patterns and acquire new one’s. Also in this book the message is clear: growing in leadership means growing in openness, listening and informal power. And yet, dialogue is not a key word.

Dialogue as defined by Isaacs is a conversation based on equality. There’s no difference in rank, status or power. Each participant is an equal part of the whole. Probably this explains why even modern leadership thought leaders don’t focus on the power of dialogue. Leadership is still considered as ‘having the lead’, as amount of power and influence. In that perspective, dialogue is instrumental. It’s one of the tools in the toolbox of a leader. And the moral of the story could be to use and to learn to use that tool more often than today. Is dialogue just a leadership tool?

Any comment?

* Bass, B. & Riggio R. (2006). Transformational Leadership. London: Laurence Erlbaum Associates, 282 p.
** Charan, R., Drotter S., & Noel J. (2001). The leadership pipeline. How to build the leadership powererd company. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 248 p.

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About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in Academic insights & evidence, English and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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