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Leadership through Conversation

Leadership through Conversation
13th Feb 2008 12:51 pm

Notes from a Wits Business School Alumni Weekend Workshop facilitated by Liora Gross

On Saturday, October 6, WorldsView’s Liora Gross facilitated a workshop at the Wits Business School Alumni Weekend. The workshop focused on the theme of leadership through conversation – a new way of thinking about leadership. This note offers some of the key themes and learnings of the conversations that took place that day.

Leaders shape the world through the conversations they initiate and engage in. Organisations consist of conversations - conversations with individuals, teams, and customers – and organizations move forward one meaningful conversation at a time (in contrast to meaningless meetings).

Conversation affects how we think, which in turn affects how we act. Our philosophies embrace conversation as a core organisation process, challenging the traditional view that talking is not consistent with doing real ‘work’. Given that, we note that as organisations we have re-engineered every business process, except the most critical process – how we have conversations.

Participants in the WBS Alumni workshop were invited to experience the power of conversation and introduce a new way of thinking about leadership. This was facilitated by engaging all participants in conversation, rather than a traditional lecture or presentation.

The medium was a ‘World Café’ dialogue - a conversation technique that is becoming something of a full-fledged movement in the organisation arena, and a powerful tool for leaders. This technique is applied in a variety of contexts and situations, from small group to meetings of thousands of people.

Thank you to all those who attended the workshop… We hope that you had a good learning experience and that this will be the start of many more meaningful conversations.

Some key learnings from the session:

On Leadership:
  • Leaders shape the world through the conversations they initiate and engage in. Organisations consist of conversations, conversations with individuals, teams, and customers. Conversation affects how we think, which in turn affects how we act.
  • Leaders’ role is to focus on organisation conversation.
  • Leaders can facilitate individual and group intelligence (opposed to ‘group think’) and change through meaningful conversation.
  • Organisations require more and more shared leadership, and this is achieved through cooperative dialogue.
  • Leaders first should learn to ask powerful questions in order to conduct effective conversations.
  • Leaders should structure conversation in larger groups to encourage contribution (e.g., Lekgotla), lead to better understanding and improve co-operation.
On Leading Change:
  • Good conversation can be catalytic in terms of opening new possibilities for action and change, with profound outcomes.
  • Conversation is a core organisation process, challenging the traditional view that talking is not consistent with doing real ‘work’. (Schieffer, Isaacs & Gyllenpalm, 2004).
  • World Café dialogue is becoming a full-fledged movement in the organisation change area. It enables large groups to think creatively as part of a single, connected conversation (Schieffer, Isaacs & Gyllenpalm, 2004).
  • A related example of best practice application for harnessing energy and moving teams or organizations forward is the Whole Systems Event.

We encourage you to use this learning when thinking of new ways of designing your meetings and collaborative processes.

"…its through language that we create the world, because it is nothing until we describe it. And when we describe it, we create distinctions that govern our actions. To put it another way, we do not describe the world we see, but we see the world we describe."
Joseph Jaworski, Synchronicity: the Inner Path of Leadership


WorldsView is proud to congratulate Liora Gross on receiving the runner-up award for Best Part-Time Lecturer at the Wits Business School.


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