Why Have Fierce Conversations?

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I once asked a friend, the Executive Director of a local not-for-profit, how his work was going. “Great,” he replied, “although I could do without the HR stuff.”

I bet all of us have felt that way at one time or another. Have you ever said to yourself, “I love what I do! My job is wonderful and would be so easy, except for all the people I have to manage, motivate, direct, develop, align, assess, recognize, reward, inform, inspire, hold accountable...” And so on. And so forth.

How come this part of our job is never ending? Because it the most important work leaders of not-for-profit organizations do. Managing, motivating, directing, developing – working with our people. It is responsibility number one and it is far from simple.

Sure, there are times when you sit alone at your desk and crunch numbers or write reports. But that’s not where you have the most impact. The best leadership work happens when you convene and lead critical conversations. It could be a conversation with your board of directors to ask - are we relevant?; or with an employee to provide honest feedback and evaluation of performance; or with a potential knowledge philanthropist to assess their fit with your organization’s culture and how their skills could make a meaningful contribution to your cause.

Those conversations are where the juice is; the opportunity to connect with the people around you and truly move your mission forward. And those same conversations are unpredictable. Often full of ambiguity, unexpected reactions, and tremendous learning. Sometimes we encounter a sharp turn around a dark corner. Other times they lead us into the light. One just never knows.

Have you ever avoided – or botched – a difficult, critical conversation in your role as a leader? What impact did that have? What would have been required to have an effective conversation with a positive outcome?

Want to be great at leading Fierce Conversations? Join us on October 18th for Leaders Forum 2012: Fierce Conversations in Not-for-Profit Organizations.


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