The Smart Work

Ten-Step Guide for Exploring Mature Leadership

Speak the Truth and Point to Hope, by Lisa Marshall, is designed to get conversations going about leadership, most specifically about the idea of leadership maturity. In service of that goal, here is a ten-step guide to starting such a conversation; feel free to adapt it to your particular needs.

1) Find a partner. Engage someone whose opinions you respect (which is not the same as agree with) to read the book and discuss its ideas. If the conversation is stimulating enough, gather a group for regular discussions.

2) Decide on the initial format for conversations. Some people will want to use the book as a framework, reading a chapter or two and discussing the specific ideas presented in them during each conversation. You may want to discuss the ideas presented in the book within the context of your own organization or part of the organization, or you may want to keep it more generic. All of these work—the key is to put some structure in place so the group knows what to expect.

3) Understand your role. As a leadership maturity conversation guide, you are consciously accepting a unique role—and a unique opportunity for development. While you probably would not have initiated or facilitated these conversations if you didn’t have a strong point of view, your goal is also to get other people thinking hard about these issues themselves. The way to do that is to focus on asking questions instead of on giving answers.

4) Be aware of group dynamics. You may be lucky and have a terrific conversation the very first time, but normally it takes a little while for groups to cohere. There are four stages to group dynamics to keep in mind—form, storm, norm, perform—these are the stages that EVERY group goes through.

  • FORM. This is the stage where everyone is figuring out who everyone else is in this context.
  • STORM. This is where issues of power within the group and treatment of ourselves and others in the group are raised It can take the form of people actively pushing for power or withdrawing to let the dust settle.
  • NORM. Here’s when the group resolves the power issues and begins to step up to owning the power.
  • PERFORM. Now there is real momentum for the conversations, and you’re playing less and less of a guiding role.

5) Know what conversation you are in. Is it a conversation about history, a conversation about possibility, or a conversation about action? For the most part, the leadership maturity conversations will be conversations about history—how it came to be that things are the way they are—and conversations about possibility—how do we want them to be? At some point, however, you will want to shift into conversations about action, which involves making commitments to do specific things differently in the future.

6) Know who you’re in conversation with. Who are the big-picture thinkers? Who needs to build the big picture up out of all the details? Watch for communication breakdowns between these types of people—it’s often very difficult for detail-oriented folks to figure how the big-picture people get where they do, and it can make them quite testy.

7) Don’t be afraid of silence. In our results-driven world, silence is usually assumed to be a waste of time. That’s not true in these conversations. The questions that go into exploring leadership maturity are not trivial; they lead to some pretty serious thinking, and they have the potential to lead to some deep sharing. Give yourselves time and space for these to happen.

8) Choose carefully the kinds of questions you present. The questions that are asked play a big part in determining the quality of the resulting conversation. It’s important that you ask open-ended questions that allow for exploration, rather than closed questions that merely elicit a “yes” or “no” response.

9) Pay attention to the kinds of answers you get. It’s important to distinguish between facts and opinions. The clearer we are about these distinctions, the higher the quality of our conversation will be.

10) Share what you’ve learned. Please share your discoveries about what worked and what didn’t, as well as the outcomes of these conversations with Lisa Marshall at The questions that developed during your conversations are of particular interest.