I believe that we sometimes over complicate leadership.  In fact, great leadership is actually quite simple. The great leaders inspire us; they set high standards; they enable us to achieve the high standards; and hold us to account to those standards.  If we wish to be a great leader, or wish to cultivate great leaders in our organisation, then we need to develop the capability to inspire, to set and enable others to reach the high standards, and hold others to account.

Organisations spend enormous amounts of money of leadership development and coaching, much of which is absolutely necessary but also very often not realised in actual behavioural change or organisational impact. Rather than investing significant amount of resources on ineffective interventions, perhaps we need to consider equipping our leaders simply with the ability to have effective conversations. I believe there are just THREE conversations that every leader needs to know how to implement. 

The Purpose Conversation

The purpose conversation is essentially about stimulating the motivation and energy within each of our direct reports to achieve their best potential.  The purpose conversation also primes our Reticular Activating System (RAS) and assists us to focus on the tasks and activities that have the greatest priority and importance.

The purpose conversation is really simple and can be conducted to one of two ways.  The first is to clearly articulate the shared goal for the team, and provide a clearly articulated and understandable reason for the goal. The purpose conversation creates clarity of the ‘Why’ – which as Simon Sinek demonstrates is necessary if we wish our people to ‘want to’ follow us rather than ‘have to’.

A second way to conduct the purpose conversation is to ask questions of our direct reports on their goals and reason for their goals.  This can be as simple as: “Why do you choose to come to work here?”

Clarity of purpose allows us to contextualise our immediate emotional experience.  In the pit of despair, with clarity of personal purpose, I am able to make sense of the immediate experience. With greater meaning I am able to focus on moving forward rather than sucked into the downward spiral or negative emotion and thought of the immediate moment.

We should be having Purpose Conversations at least monthly with each of our direct reports and team. If you choose not to have these purpose conversations, there is a significant consequence, that being direct reports losing their focus, becoming less motivated and decreasing discretionary effort, and ultimately disengaging (and either leave or stay but doing the minimum).

Create clarity of purpose for yourself, and then actively cultivate clarity of purpose for your team through regular purpose conversations.

The Expectation Conversation

The expectation conversation is the foundation of accountability and cultivating a culture of accountability in a team.  The primary goal of the expectation conversation is to clearly articulate the mutual expectations of each party and agree on reasonable mutual expectations.  A secondary goal is to have an agreed standard and agreed way of working that one can be held to account to meeting.

It is as simple asking “what do you expect of me as your leader?”; followed by “my expectations of you are as follows…”. 

Relying on a job description is not good enough. The expectation conversation should address expected behaviours; standard and quality of work; language; timeliness; professionalism; methods of communication; home and work life balance etc.  Furthermore, the expectation conversation is a regular conversation that articulates standards and expectations in a specific and detailed manner.  One should be having an ‘Expectation Conversation’ at least monthly to verify agreed expectations and to discuss whether or not these expectations are being met.

The more clearly articulated the agreed expectations, both for individuals as well as for teams, projects and organisations, the greater the potential for sustainable high performance.

The Accountability Conversation

The accountability conversation is the conversation that brings all the previous conversations together.  Where the expectation conversation is the foundation of an accountable culture, the accountability conversation i.e. being held to account, is the essence and the glue that holds the accountable culture together.

Being held to account, in a respectful way done with integrity, is probably the most important elements of sustainable success.  This applies to our personal lives in our families and with our children, it applies for us personally in our work, and it applies in teams, projects and organisations. Being held to account makes us ‘Feel Accountable’ – and when we ‘feel accountable’ our effort increases, our behaviour changes, and we perform better.

The primary purpose of the accountability conversation is to hold ourselves and others to account to the agreed expectations.  The secondary purpose of the accountability conversation is to eliminate negative behaviours of avoidance, ignoring, blame, denying, justifying and inappropriate rationalisation from ourselves and our teams.

Holding ourselves and others to account makes us ‘Feel Accountable’, which can in some cases feel uncomfortable.  In fact, being held to account can in many cases generate negative emotions.  It seems counter-intuitive, but in fact a culture of accountability and being resilient actually requires us to work through this negative emotion to a point where we own the accountability.  Once we own the accountability we can move forward effectively.


“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”

Lieutenant General David Lindsay

We need to have the courage to hold ourselves and others to account.  We need to address any deviance from an agreed expectation immediately, whether it be ourselves or others, by having an accountability conversation.  We do this by reminding ourselves and others of the agreed expectations, we articulate the reason why we are having the conversation, followed by our concern.  In many case, just the conversation itself is enough to make someone ‘Feel Accountable’ and cause a shift toward the agreed expectation.

Bringing it all together

Now that you have read this article, I would like you to have a go at these three conversations.  Test my premise above.  Go and find your own evidence for the validity if these three conversations.  I am confident that you will discover that these three simple conversations will have an immediate and significant impact on the effectiveness of your team and project.

I would be greatly appreciative not only your thoughts on the above, but if you do or have implemented the above three conversations, your feedback on the effectiveness and impact of these three conversations.

Finally, you have a choice right now.  You can:

  1. Have read this article and concluded that it is nonsense and do nothing.
  2. Have read this article and concluded that it is valid and useful, but still do nothing.
  3. Or you have read this article and concluded that it is valid and useful, and choose to do something and have a go at the conversations.
Your choice…

About the author

Gregory Bayne is one of the Directors of Total Leader and Coach Solutions Australia.  Greg works with senior and executive leaders assisting them to make shifts in the way they work, the way they think and the way they live their lives to become better leaders, colleagues and team members. Greg has a particular focus on assisting leaders create a culture or accountability and high performance. His expertise and knowledge is around building and developing a culture of accountability, leading high performing teams, and getting the most out of people to deliver the highest standards of work. We cultivate sustainable behavioural change in individuals, teams and organisations to drive a performance culture.

comments powered by Disqus