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Management: Powerful Connections In Small Moments
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Management: Powerful Connections In Small Moments - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Powerful Connections In Small Moments

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Powerful Connections In Small Moments

Douglas Conant was the CEO of the Campbell Soup Company from 2001 to 2011, a period during which he is credited with turning around a flagging organization and making huge improvements in Campbell’s diversity and inclusion practices. He credits much of this turnaround to a management style that, among other practices, embraces the many daily interruptions that plague us all via email, telephone, and drop-in conversation. These interruptions, he says, didn’t break the flow of the work; they were the work itself.

In Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments (Jossey-Bass, 2011), Conant and co-author Mette Norgaard break down this Touchpoints style into three large components, each with a few behaviors that make the most of everyday conversations so that they frame and advance the issue with meaningful takeaway on everyone’s part. These components—using your head, using your heart, and using your hands—work together in focusing the three variables of each interaction: the leader, the other people, and the issue.

This description sounds vague, but the authors are good about breaking each component down and explaining it in a way that is neither too specific to apply to your own interactions nor too general to be impossible to get any meaning from. The concept of a personal leadership model gets five pages of explanation and exploration here, with examples but no specific prescriptions, an approach that makes sense. By now, each of us has our own model of good leadership, and since there is no one way to conceive of good leadership, this Touchpoints concept needs to work with your hard-fought model. The authors’ emphasis is on communication, something that can be addressed without changing every one of your other leadership philosophies.

The majority of Conant and Norgaard’s approach is spent on helping you understand and keep in mind your own ideas and attitudes: when those are in place as guiding concepts, the writers offer the prescriptive stuff. The four-word question “Can I Help?” is the “magic question” that prepares you for the three notes that make you helpful “even in the briefest of moments.” These notes are listening intently, framing the issue, and advancing the agenda. Listening carefully with “Can I help?” as the filter lets you block out your personal agenda and lets you hear the problem from others’ perspectives, which are often not your own. Framing the issue trims the noise away from the signal and makes sure that everyone participating in the moment understands the situation. Advancing the agenda means figuring out what the next steps are and who will take them.

We’re not talking only about big meetings or long phone calls here; Conant and Norgaard stress that with practice, the approach makes many, many of your interactions meaningful, sometimes helping you, as leader, see the extraneous yet relevant issues that are often kept out of conversations, such as employees’ personal concerns or simmering conflicts. Using this approach when he took over the struggling Campbell company, Conant says he was able to hear (and do something about) long-festering issues that dampened morale. Seeing a leader who heard their concerns and then did something about them (with such seemingly easy tasks as repainting the offices and putting in new carpet) as if their issues were his own issues improved spirits and opened up further conversation, which Conant credits to improved leadership throughout the company.

The magnifying effect (which the authors call “exponential) of this kind of purposeful listening affects the whole organization, over time. When Conant, as CEO, interacted with his leaders this way, they learned to interact with theirs similarly, and in turn their leaders communicated with their managers and employees this way, a ripple that soon permeated the company. “By concentrating your energy and attention on the things you can control,” they write, “you will become the type of leader whom others count on to meet the targets, raise the standards, and exceed the performance expectations. As your reputation grows, you will be trusted with even greater responsibilities…as you do, you will improve your capacity to lead wisely in the interruption age.”

 

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Management: Powerful Connections In Small Moments - Executive Leadership Articles

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