“Those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.” –George Bernard Shaw
I grew up in the generation where you did what your parents told you to do. For example, ‘Wear appropriate attire when you go to the Courthouse with your dad; wear a coat to school; hold that job for at least a year’ …and so on. So naturally, without any other experience rearing children, this belief you must “do what I tell you to do” got passed along to my youngest step daughter Anna. It got passed along without much success, I might add, but I kept at it anyway over 6 years, until I went to coaching school in 2008. There I learned to embrace a new belief – that each person knows what’s best for them.
In her first two years in high school, Anna and I had an ongoing battle about wearing a coat on cold winter days. One morning, with my new found courage from coach training, I accepted her decision to leave without a coat. It was the last time, through graduation, that she did that. It was a freezing cold day and she accidentally got locked outside at cheer leading practice. This openness in my perspective, and my conversations with her, was the start of a whole new relationship for the two of us. And coaching school wasn’t the only source of this wisdom. So, too, was my sister-friend and mentor Dr. Maxine Thurston-Fischer. She would say, “think of each meeting like a fresh blank sheet. Go in with something on it to get the conversation going, or go in and see what you can create together.” It’s your choice.
The Google dictionary definition of the noun “openness” includes lack of restriction as inaccessibility, acceptance of or receptiveness to change or new ideas, lack of secrecy or concealment as in frankness, the quality of not being covered by a building or trees, and in a sports a style of play that is spread out over the field. And Google reports that use of this term significantly and progressively increased since the 1950’s, reaching a new height in 2010. Dictionary.com offers 81 different dimensions for the word ‘open’ in all its forms as an adjective, noun and verb.
The connectors between the dots of wisdom from Anna and Maxine, and my appreciation for the broadest meaning of “openness” in leadership was further solidified with what Judith E. Glaser calls Level III Conversations in her book, Conversational Intelligence, How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. To understand Level III, you need a bit of context first about Levels I & II. Judith explains that a Level I Conversation is transactional with a focus on ‘telling and asking’. “It’s about ‘exchanging information’ to keep people in the loop, updating or getting things accomplished. Judith says, that when we rely too much on ‘telling what’s on our mind’, with low levels of listening to ‘what is on other’s minds,’ we have the potential to increase fear, decrease trust, and with it resistance to change.
Judith explains further that a Level II Conversation is positional with a focus on ‘advocating and inquiring’. “It’s about ‘exchanging power’ to influence others to our point of view. And while this level of conversation is useful in giving testimony to support a public policy position, it often focuses on the best interests of one side versus the best interests of the other side and common ground may be hard to establish. Judith says, that when we rely too much on ‘pushing our own point of view’, with low levels of listening to ‘other’s points of view,’ we also have the potential to increase fear, decrease trust, with it resistance to change.
Level III Conversations are like a blank canvas that offers room for a whole new level of openness. Judith explains, “A Level III Conversation is transformational with a focus on ‘sharing and discovering’. It happens through ‘exchanging energy’, co-creating and transforming ideas and outcomes with each other’s contributions.” In Level III Conversations, according to Judith, “we are engaging with others in high levels of openness, candor, curiosity and wonder, stimulating provocative questions that enable us to partner to elevate our thinking to new thoughts and ideas. This kind of dialogue builds high trust.”
Level III Conversations Close the Generation Gap
One of the challenges I’m hearing about often from nonprofit leaders of all levels of experience is effective communication between boomer-generation leaders and generation x and millennial-generation leaders. Young leaders today are technology savvy, multi-tasking super bright people who work quickly with lots of great energy and ideas. They are highly adaptable, motivated to change and always learning. They get satisfaction from flexibility, autonomy, feeling challenged, seeing how their contributions do make a difference and they want opportunities to grow. These young leaders have the same passion that baby-boomers had when we were younger. Boomer leaders led the charge in the late 1960’s and 70’s in the US and internationally to create some of our most notable nonprofit organizations in much the same way today’s younger leaders are creating new organizations often with global reach to continue solving seemingly intractable challenges of poverty, disease, homeless, abuse and neglect and more. Today more than ever, it’s the confluence of talent in the nonprofit sector that is creating new possibilities for addressing old problems. And, it’s what makes Level III Conversations a perfect antidote to bridging the gaps across generations at work.
Here are three ways you can be generously open in your leadership and increase the frequency of Level III Conversations. One way Judith developed is to practice asking questions without your own preconceived ideas about what the answers should be. This method is like starting with the blank sheet that Maxine talked about and filling the page in the process of the conversation and seeing together what you can create. In my experience this approach eases the pressure on leaders to come with the right answers. It does this by shifting the focus to having good questions that stimulate more openings in the dialogue – a highly effective way to bridge conversations across generations. Another way I learned from Maxine is to practice patience and getting comfortable with ambiguity by seeing it as the opportunity instead of the challenge. This method is like being on a journey where you slow down for a time and fill-up a blank journal with your observations. At some point – when the time is just right – a direction that makes sense will emerge from the evidence you’ve gathered. It’s another impactful way to bridge conversations across generations. And still one more way Judith offers is to use the blank page to develop a time line and practice looking back on your life and your career so far noting experiences that inspired you with passion and excitement. Then you use these connections to spark co-creating with others looking forward. Remember, the enthusiasm, aspirations and individualism that fuels gen x and millennials is the same passion that fueled and continues to fuel baby-boomers. It’s culture, experience and context that make the experience of each generation seem so different. Level III Conversations reduce the divide with wide open space for everyone’s contributions to be valued and that’s the space where mission success happens.
Managance Consulting & Coaching is on a mission to ignite passion and energize opportunity in nonprofit work places. Denice Hinden, PhD, PCC, President and her team inspire leaders and teams to their next level of leadership and develop more trusting “we-centered” organizational cultures with transformational leadership development and engaging strategic thinking. Denice is Certified in Conversational Intelligence®. Judith E. Glaser is the founder and CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., and the Chairman of The Creating We Institute. We are honored to partner with Judith to bring you our 2017-2018 Leveling Up Leadership Blog.
Copyright © 2017 by Managance Consulting & Coaching and Judith E. Glaser