The Missing Conversations


As leaders, we’re tasked with having many different types of conversations – including praise, recognition, direction, and corrective action, to name just a few. However, many of the conversations we think about having can be challenging for us and actually, for want of a better term, go “missing.”

There are many names for these “missing” conversations. Some call them “critical” while others call them “pivotal”; this is my favorite because it removes some of the fear of having the conversation and suggests something productive might occur – thus motivating me to have the conversation. But these pivotal conversations are not just “missing” with others; they are sometimes missing – not occurring – with ourselves.

These potentially pivotal conversations we’re not having with ourselves can be a fundamental block to our growth and development as leaders. Through my coaching and HR experience, I have identified three reasons leaders are blocked or avoiding clearer and healthier self-talk, and what to do about them:

  1. Fear of ______ (fill in the blank). Our negative bias keeps us “safe” in many ways, but it also holds us back from potential. I recently heard that a leader in his 90s still goes to networking functions to meet new people – and that he still skis. This is a man with evidently little fear.

Our anxieties and fears keep us smaller than we ought to be, and we tend to breathe life into our fear-based stories to keep ourselves in the safe mental and emotional zone. This internal voice – the “Inner Critic” – holds us back from some fundamental self-actualization opportunities by reducing the risk-taking in our lives.

What to do? Author and motivational speaker Tim Ferris suggests “fear setting” instead of goal setting, or setting our fears in place so we can better understand them. This takes some brutal honesty with ourselves, but it can work. Next time you sense that you are avoiding someone or something, ask yourself, “What’s the absolute worst that could happen, and if that happened, what would I do?” We usually realize that a) the fear is not likely, or b) if it is actually likely, we would manage it and be okay – if not better for having not avoided the situation or person.

  1. Being discovered as a fraud. If we are vulnerable about the need to learn, doesn’t that mean we don’t know enough? After all, as leaders, we’re in a position of importance. Won’t we look like a fraud, or at least not completely credible, if we admit we don’t know something or if we have the need to learn and grow?

Most of us will read that previous statement and think, “That’s ridiculous; everyone has to keep learning.” But I will challenge you to remain keenly aware of your behaviors next time you’re challenged with something you don’t know. Check in with yourself before automatically covering your ignorance, and ask yourself, “How will I build credibility by admitting my fallibility?” In so doing, we not only build credibility and trust with others; we create the opportunity for others to contribute by not knowing all the answers and modeling a willingness passion for learning!

  1. Distractions: Everything from piling on more work to having less-than-stellar time and energy management keeps us from being highly self-aware. Among the long list of distractions we can partake in is not creating a personal growth and development strategy. We tell ourselves many things to distract ourselves from doing, but this is what some of the most effective leaders have told me they tell themselves and do:
    • They set aside a significant portion of their time for strategic work compared to task-oriented work.
    • They prioritize their own development and invest (money and time) in their development, without making excuses such as not wanting to take the resources away from others.
    • Effective leaders intentionally take part in restorative activities. These might be exercise, reading, spiritual practices, getting outside in nature, creative hobbies, etc. They restore their own energetic reserves and create the resiliency that leadership demands of us all.

I’ve come to recognize that these three ideas are fundamental to self-awareness, and thus to having more clear and pivotal conversations with ourselves and others. If you would like to learn more about fundamentals and more advanced leadership, team and organizational development opportunities, please reach out to me. I’d be much happier having the conversation with you in one-on-one. ☺

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