CEO Leadership Traits: Effective Conversations

“Open your hips before you shrug and drop faster under the bar!” shouts my CrossFit® instructor while helping me improve my squat clean technique. It’s one of those weird moves that takes many repetitions to perfect — to align brain cells so it’s memory versus concentration. It’s like changing your golf swing. Until it’s memory, you’ll screw up by thinking too hard … usually about what you are NOT supposed to do rather than what you are. My instructor ends with, “A few hundred more reps and you’ll get it right!”

People who are promoted into management but have not had many “repetitions” delivering leadership messages — both positive and negative — are naturally not very good at it. Difficult, assertive conversations as well as positive, encouraging conversations must become muscle memory before you can use them as needed. Most of us aren’t good enough to “wing it.”

I had an extremely talented CEO client who used to call me to practice his difficult conversations as well as his planned, encouraging talks to coworkers. If you saw him you’d wonder why, because he was articulate and thought on his feet. However, he understood the importance of language and tone and knew that sometimes our intended messages got tangled up in our mouths on the way to the recipient’s ears. What we think we’re saying is often not heard that way!

Most of us suffer through the initial challenges of delivering leadership messages and eventually do enough reps to be effective. However, with some coaching, mentoring and practice, we can learn effective communication much more quickly.

I’m a miserable golfer. I never took the time to learn and, as a result, turn down offers to golf. I remember taking a lesson or two many years ago and the instructor saying, “If you want to go for a beautiful walk, golf. If you want to learn how to golf, practice!” In the organizational world, delivering tough or compelling messages and having the kind, yet ferocious, conversations required to succeed can be learned on the job — but they’re better learned on a practice course.


Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of, Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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