Co-Author Jake Gach is a Management Consultant at Accenture, in New York. Jake’s contribution to this post is greatly appreciated. – GStC.
Since knowledge services first came on the scene, the discipline has been spoken of as an approach to knowledge sharing. The word “approach” has been used intentionally, to ensure that knowledge services is not exclusive or applied separately from other methodologies. Now conversational leadership joins knowledge services to offer an exciting new way of thinking about how information, knowledge, and learning are shared successfully, wherever knowledge sharing is practiced (or expected to be practiced).
Leadership and Knowledge Services
Leadership has always been an essential part of the knowledge services construct. With conversational leadership at hand to join in supporting excellence in knowledge sharing, every person can now build a strong foundation for interacting with others. When this happens, benefits accrue for the organization, group, or community in which knowledge services and conversational leadership are practiced, and especially where they are practiced in a unified and jointly supported way.
When we speak about leadership, there is often an element of tension as the leadership role becomes a working tool. Within knowledge services, this sometimes happens when the role of the knowledge strategist is established as a specific leader. This creates an arrangement in which the knowledge strategist is recognized and performs as the leader in the knowledge services effort.
So where do we go, in connecting leadership and knowledge services? The connection is often invoked, and that brings us to the true value of conversational leadership, which David Gurteen says is about “appreciating the extraordinary but underutilized power of conversation, recognizing that we can all practice leadership and adopt a conversational approach to the way in which we live and work together in an increasingly complex world.”
As a practice for sharing information, knowledge, and learning, conversational leadership eliminates the tension and, indeed, sets up a system (we might call it) in which leadership is not only practiced but shared. Indeed, the people we see working with conversational leadership have stretched the idea to match exactly what we’ve been trying to do with knowledge services over the years.
Is conversational leadership a new approach to knowledge services? Yes it is.
Conversational Leadership and Knowledge Services
Several respected leaders are working now with conversational leadership. While these people will become more recognized in the near future, knowledge workers and knowledge strategists are already hearing about the work of John Hovell, Managing Director & Co-Founder at STRATactical International LLC, David Gurteen, well known for his knowledge café training meetings, Donita Volkwijn, Manager, Knowledge Management at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and several others working with conversational leadership.
And not to put too fine a point on it, many of the people noted above also refer to conversational leadership as conversational “communityship,” taking their cue from Henry Mintzberg’s famous “made-up” word. As Mintzberg put it, he made the word up “to put leadership in its place, namely to support communityship.” It was a statement he made that, from almost any point of view, gave Mintzberg the last—and best—word on the subject, that “effective organizations are communities of human beings, not collections of human resources.”
Leadership as a Practice
Hovell advises—and by now you know that we agree with him—that “we need to see leadership as a practice as opposed to a role or a position of authority. It may be time to consider that leadership is a choice that is available to all of us.”
If that’s the case, we can expand on Hovell with a few key reasons:
- The concept of “leadership” is continuously evolving with new advancements in society and technology. Knowledge sharing and communication are essential in order to “lead” in a modern way.
- Leadership can indeed be “practiced”—the concept of leading by example and pursuing innovative opportunities should be entrenched throughout the organization, from top to bottom.
- Individual growth (and thus organizational growth) can be better achieved with traditional “managers” playing more of a coaching role, particularly in consulting/client facing roles where more junior members need to take leadership of certain client activities (even if they may not have an internal “leading” role in the organization).
Connecting with these reasons—with the conversational leadership/knowledge services combination—the knowledge strategist moves to transparency and open communication and we can quote John Hovell again. He has three core questions that must be raised in any information-, knowledge-, or learning-sharing interaction:
- Are we having the conversation we need to be having right now?
- Are we having it in the way we need to be having it?
- In what ways are we forming community in this conversation?
Making the Connection
As we move forward and expand on the directions those questions take us, we focus on transparency and open communication as essential in successful leadership, and in particular as we think about conversational leadership. By focusing on these two fundamental values, a conversational leadership environment can be instilled in any organization, group, or community. In any environment, a community can be built around the concept of conversational leadership and used for growing the next generation of leaders in the group.
These successes can be done at the higher level, with employees at the executive level creating communities of leadership in which ideas are continuously exchanged and flow to the top. While “executives” may only have the capacity to interact with each individual team/practice/business line lead, it is important for those leads’ teams to feel empowered in order to share innovative ideas, and for leadership to value those ideas.
And at the junior level we have to stop and consider that while junior members may not technically “lead” from an organizational perspective, such “leadership” is crucial for their respective communities of practice, in order to enable them to share new ideas or feedback into the organization. This creates a strong sense of ownership to the more junior member as well as an opportunity for “true” leadership/executives to evolve the organization to fit the changing landscape.
The Conversational Leadership / Knowledge Services Result
Conversational leadership matches the long-standing goals of knowledge strategists for knowledge services. In doing so, conversational communityship does indeed offer a new way of thinking about knowledge services and there’s no question that combining the best of conversational leadership with the best of knowledge services brings specific advantages. Two can be immediately identified:
- At the organizational level (regardless of the type of organization, even in non-profit and/or not-for-profit groups), communityship provides welcome effectiveness.
- Yet beyond organizational or group effectiveness, there are important gains for personal growth, which some firms do very well in their yearly review process and similar activities (and others do not do so well).
So to answer the question about whether conversational leadership presents a new approach to knowledge services, the answer is definitely “yes.” If we want to move forward, knowledge services—with conversational leadership/conversational communityship—is the way to go.