In his book Radical Wholeness: The Embodied Present and the Ordinary Grace of Being, Philip Shepherd talks about how different cultures recognise different senses. While the Western culture has been taught to have five senses – touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight – the Anlo-Ewe culture of West Africa understands senses in a different way. And so, in their culture, they consider speech to be one of the senses that they use to discover their way forward.
Just like they would use their hands and the sense of touch to move through physical space.
Reading about this made me think immediately: we need leaders with that sixth sense of speech whose work is to honour speaking and listening in every context. Bold leaders who initiate bolder conversations.
What are bolder conversations? Conversations in which we speak about what’s known to everybody but which nobody dares to say. Unspoken opinions here do not count in leadership. Leadership is not a safe game in which we see things that require change and we respond to them by avoiding to speak up or listen or very often – both.
Bolder conversations mean allowing space for whatever needs to be said and heard. In such conversations all voices matter despite of how uncomfortable it may be. As such, bolder conversations, bring necessary change and have the power to re-design our life, our workplace culture and our leadership.
Bolder conversations design the essence of our lives.
There are two types of conversation that all of us are in, at all times. The internal one that happens in our own heads. The external one that happens with others. Both can be daring or not.
Leaders that are not able to open up bolder conversations with themselves, probably won’t be able to initiate a real bold one with others either. What we are saying to ourselves and others defines the quality of the life we live. What we keep unspoken does so too.
Bolder conversations design the experience of our workplace culture.
If we take this concept to the context of the organisations, we can say that the conversations are designing our life in our workplace. What’s being talked about, and even more so what’s not being talked about, is costing our organisations success and our employees the culture they desire to experience to meaningfully engaged.
In my work I hear too many employees saying that they want a better culture in teams or organisations that they work in. The very same message often comes from their leaders as well, making it sound as if they are once again collectively creating an atmosphere that they collectively don’t want.
Your workplace conversations are designing your culture right now, at the moment of you reading this. So how to create that bold leadership culture consciously?
I believe these are the key perspectives from which bold leaders create the culture of meaningful engagement:
- Bold leaders activate leadership in everyone: themselves and others. They start doing this by believing that all voices matter.
- Bold leaders are great coaches who support people’s passions.
- Bold leaders are initiators of better and bolder conversations that get created from whatever is unspoken.
- Bold leaders bring their integrity to work to create safety in the workplace so that these conversations can actually happen.
- Bold leaders’ legacy is creative thinking and meaningful talking kept alive in their organisation long after they’re gone.
Bolder conversations design the quality of our leadership, just as our unspoken opinions do. And the good news is that they are both always a matter of our choice.