THE VALUE OF A CONVERSATION

In the middle of the Spanish summer, when most people take their vacation and most professional activities slow down to an almost unbearable pace, a friend´s 11-year-old son was asking me job-searching tips.  He is very committed to becoming a commercial aircraft pilot, and understands that the training process for such a profession is very, very expensive.  In order to start saving money, he was identifying potential summer jobs he could apply for in a few years time.

This led to discussing what kind of skills, goods or services one can exchange for money, which is the essential operating system of our economy.  While evaluating the merits of a part time job as a gas station attendant, becoming a waiter in the summer season, or setting up a small business that included automated massage chairs near the beach, he asked what I did for a living.

As a Leadership Effectiveness coach and consultant, the concept of making money by having conversations with business owners and executives, did not make immediate sense in my friend.  This reminded me that, not too long ago, I was having almost the same kind of talk with another acquaintance of mine, a seasoned executive who became Managing Director of a large business in Northern Europe.

In a friendly way, I was being challenged on my business model.  I charge clients an appropriate fee to share my professional experience and knowledge, through different types of conversations (coaching, consulting or training).  The ‘value’ that I am exchanging in the economic model is reflected in the client´s ability to close a development gap and become more effective in his or her leadership style.  This development, in turn, has a multiplying effect in the leader´s ability to engage, align and motivate their teams to execute and accomplish business goals.

I thought this explanation, in a simple but elegant way, proved the value of my business model.  However, my executive friend, as well as the 11 year old, was reluctant to accept it.  How can you charge money to sit down, have coffee and talk? Is this a new scam?

To try and settle this I asked the executive: Tell me, what do you do in a typical week, as Managing Director of a large service business, located across many different cities and countries, involving thousands of employees serving customers, and reporting to a supervisory board?

Well, he said, a typical week involves several staff meetings with my management team to discuss performance and goals, some sales calls that allow me to meet important clients, maybe a visit to a location where I have a chance to speak to employees, and some conference calls with my boss and the board members.  As required, I also meet with commercial partners, suppliers, media contacts and some of the authorities that regulate our industry.

Great summary! I asked then: In all those interactions, where you try to reach all of your stakeholders and meet their expectations, what is the essential way you communicate with them? I was not surprised when he said, “I… actually… have conversations!”

In the end, my job of supporting leaders to become more effective, and the job of a Managing Director responsible for generating millions in sales, leading thousands of people, and satisfying lots of clients, is, essentially, the same.  We have conversations that create baselines, identify gaps to achieve better performance, agree to change perspectives, formulate action plans, celebrate successes, and correct deviations to our plans.

In those terms, charging a fee for having a valuable conversation is no longer seen as a potential scam that takes advantage of clients.  When an excellent operational manager decides to make the transition to an effective leader, most of the time he or she will spend with the wide variety of stakeholders will involve that kind of focused and positive energy driven conversation.

This topic has been widely researched, and the book “Leadership Conversations: Challenging High Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders”, is highly recommended to those who want to succeed in that transition.

I am also reading a book about the last 100 days of John F. Kennedy, a recognized leader by many.  It becomes apparent that most of the time spent to handle some of the largest crises the American government faced in recent history (Vietnam, Civil Rights, and the Cold War), was through careful reflection and powerful conversations with trusted associates.

I am looking forward to supporting both my 11-year-old friend, as well as the seasoned executive, in becoming more effective to achieve their professional goals through the art of valuable conversations.  Can I interest you as well?