Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

“The Conversation IS The Relationship”

Written by: on January 25, 2024

Drawing from nearly two decades of conversations with Fortune 500 executives, Susan Scott offers fresh and surprising alternatives to the “best practices” wreaking havoc on today’s businesses. In her book, Fierce Leadership, she states, “Our careers, our companies, our personal relationships, and our very lives succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly-one conversation at a time.”1 In her book, Fierce Conversations, Scott writes, “The conversation is the relationship.”2 I love her view/idea on leadership. While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a business, a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can.

This week as I read Rethinking Leadership by Annabel Beerel, I kept thinking, no matter what key leadership theories and skills are discussed, a key aspect of leadership is building strong relationships through conversations but remembering the conversation is the relationship.

With “the conversation is the relationship” in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed Beerel’s book because she provided an outstanding review of leadership theories, competencies, and skills in Rethinking Leadership! Her analysis of leadership practices in today’s ever-changing business, social and global landscapes is spot on, and her guidance around developing crucial adaptive leadership competencies is extremely comprehensive.

I learned from my time in Oxford and through class that leadership is a failed enterprise in that despite the billions of dollars spent on leadership development, the returns are mediocre at best. The coronavirus pandemic has magnified the lack of leadership in every domain. Maybe because leadership is one conversation at a time and since the conversation is the relationship many leaders have failed at having authentic conversations with their people. I felt the bottom line in this book is there are certain key leadership skills required during times of crises and radical uncertainty. Beerel emphasizes, “Leading in a time of crisis requires multiple skills. These include a calm demeanor, the courage to speak to reality, an ability to find clarity amid chaos, a capacity for deep empathy, and sensitivity to timing.”3 This point was emphasized because leading in the 21st century involves leading into uncertainty at times. Leading into uncertainty really spoke to me. And this is why?

As the Founder/Executive Director of Restore Counseling Center, we are in our third-year planning to raise funds for a building project that will enable us to mentor counselors and multiply our counseling center to various parts of the globe. But as I read chapter six, I had to do some serious internal thinking. Beerel wisely wrote, “Research tells us that in general, people are unaware of how they make their decisions and why they prefer one alternative over others.”4 As soon as I read this I thought, “Ok, what is our decision process as we move forward to build a facility or renovate a home or facility?” At this time, we do not have one. Ouch! Fortunately, we have about 40 days to decide because at our next board meeting, we will begin to process our options.

“Many people struggle to articulate the path they took to arrive at a conclusion.”5 Once again, I’m processing her words and wrestling with them. And then she really hit home, “We tend to react to a situation-make judgments influenced by our emotions – and then reason or rationalize after the fact as to why that judgment was the correct one. Our emotional reactions precede our judgment without us being cognitively aware of the influences they have.”6 Last year in this program I learned of my and everyone’s propensity for unconscious biases. I wonder if we reason or rationalize after the fact, because of our shadow self. Scarlett Kent said in her book, Shadow Work Journal and Workbook, “the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”7 This means helping me and Chairman of the Board to help the board of Directors to understand we all have a shadow self, and we all bring things to the table we are unaware of. It’s okay to be terrified of all the things that make us who we are. It’s also those things that will help us to help our community, county, state, and world to heal.

Based upon this week’s reading here is my plan:

  1. Since the conversation is the relationship, keep building on my strong relationships with the Board of Directors through conversating about their personal, family, and work issues/relationships.
  2. Even though we are all excited about a new or renovated building, this could become a crisis because it is a new reality. “The most important task of leadership is identifying, framing, and aligning people to new realities.”8 At this time I am not sure how I am going to go about this, but I will discuss this with my Chairman. Patty Beach says in her insightful book, The Art of Alignment, “The bottom line is this: if you really want to lead, you just have to get good at aligning people.”9 This is why I will spend time working at aligning our board to this new reality.
  3. Together with my Chairman come up with a couple of decision-making processes and decide on one to present to the Board of Directors.
  4. Try to keep the process simple.

In closing, I have a question for my cohort. What would you add or subtract from my list and what other advice or suggestions would you offer? Thank you, you wise people.

  1. Susan Scott. Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today. 15.
  2. Susan Scott. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time. 5.
  3. Annabel Beerel. Rethinking Leadership: A Critique of Contemporary Theories. 165.
  4. Ibid. 135.
  5. Ibid. 135.
  6. Ibid. 135.
  7. Scarlett Kent. Shadow Work Journal and Workbook. 27.
  8. Annabel Beerel. Rethinking Leadership: A Critique of Contemporary Theories. 166.
  9. Patty Beach. The Art of Alignment. 39.

About the Author

Todd E Henley

Todd is an avid cyclist who loves playing frisbee golf, watching NASCAR, making videos, photography, playing Madden football, and watching sport. He is addicted to reading, eating fruits and vegetables, and drinking H2O. His passion is talking about trauma, epigenetics, chromosomes, and the brain. He has been blessed with a sensationally sweet wife and four fun creative children (one of which resides in heaven). In his free time he teaches at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and is the Founder/Executive Director of Restore Counseling Center.

11 responses to ““The Conversation IS The Relationship””

  1. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Thank you, Todd, your reflections on the power of individual conversations were exactly what I needed to hear this week! I’m still in the beginning stages of creating a new ministry to parents, and so sometimes it feels like all I’m doing is talking about it. But the talking is an important first step, because I’m making my vision known and (hopefully) getting others on board to join me. Your thoughts have reassured me!

    • Hey Kim! That is great! I’ve noticed you really don’t talk, when you open your mouth you communicate and you do it well. So keep communicating because you are building strong relationships…but with your leadership skills and awareness, I’m sure you already knew that. Keep up the great work, young lady!

  2. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Todd,
    Thank you for your insightful post and bringing to my attention two new books! My reading list keeps getting longer. Your main point, “The conversation is the relationship” resonates with me. What are your tips for keeping the lines of communication open? How does the awareness that unconscious biases in self and others may be at play help you attend to conversations in the present moment?

    • Hello Jenny. You always ask tough questions. Thank you! 🙂
      Whenever I see my therapists or Executive Assistant, I communicate with my body, “Hello, I’m happy to see you.” I stop whatever I’m doing to listen to whatever they have to say. I ask about them and their family. When necessary I compliment them and tell them how much they mean to me and the difference they are making in our community.
      When I meet anyone I communicate with my body, eyes, and words, “You matter and it’s important for me to listen to you and keep building a relationship with you by talking with you.”

      My unconscious bias is, “No matter who you are or what you’ve done, I am your friend and will be here FOR YOU…ALWAYS. It seems like just about everyone knows this about me. I know it’s a short cheap answer but it’s late. 😊

  3. Esther Edwards says:

    Yes. I agree with Jenny. Thanks for the resources. In answer to your question regarding your building process…Are there any other stakeholders beyond your board that you can include in the conversation, especially those who may have an impact in some way? They may have key insights and even concerns that could be addressed early on. My two cents!

    • Esther! Great idea! Brilliant! I never thought of that. Thank you. I can ask two life coaches, one is my personal life coach, our therapists, my Executive Assistant, and I’ll continue to think through this question. Thank you Esther.

  4. Cathy Glei says:

    You are living out the key aspect of leadership you shared from your learnings/leadership rhythms. . .remembering the conversation is the relationship. Some questions that came to mind: How are those conversations developed? Over coffee? Mostly casual or more “board-like”? As you walk and do life together? Who is the “vision caster”? How is that shared? I won’t go to 20 questions (ha, ha), just a few that popped in my mind.

    • Hello Cathy! Thank you for your questions. The easy answer is “Yes” I make sure I connect with each board at least once a month through text, phone call, or meeting in person.
      I also meet once a month with my chairman and we discuss the vision but I am mostly the vision caster. But in the board meetings the Chairman is the vision caster. The vision is shared many ways…through written word, through pictures, creatively through video or a written note from a client who has been healed from a past trauma and/or through how I lead life on life.

  5. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Todd! Thanks for your post. I’m intrigued by your writing and especially by your question in the very last part of it.

    You emphasize Beerel’s thought regarding the most important task of leadership, “The most important task of leadership is identifying, framing, and aligning people to new realities.”

    If I may give my opinion, you and your team have to conduct research to find the top priority of your institution. In that research, you can involve your client, pastors, experts, and anyone who relates to your core business.

    May God bless your plan and hope.

  6. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    What about asking questions around relationship to your surroundings? I think mission and vision statements help as far as who you are and where you want to go, how does a building enhance or detract from your mission vision? Just because a place is pretty doesn’t mean it’s a good fit. So if relationships are your key goal, finding a building that enhances relational conversations and natural interactions. I’m not sure this is where you were going but seems like it may help? When my family get together for vacations, we all name our “10” . What is the activity or event that would make this trip a 10 out of 10 for you? It helps us name our expectations but even better it helps us compromise when it’s someone else’s 10…we respect it and do whatever we can to make it happen which often means compromise:).

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