As I scrolled through online commentary and reviews about Judith Glaser’s book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, one came up that reflected my own thinking. It said simply, “good concept that could have been summarized in one essay.”
To be clear, Glaser has written a book that is chock full of content, ideas, approaches and systems for improving leadership and results. Her basic premise as she puts it in the introduction is that “to get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of our culture, which depends on the quality of our relationships, which depends on the quality of our conversations. Everything happens through conversations!’”
As the reviewer suggests, Glaser’s core idea is a good one. This focus on culture, relationships and conversations is something that every leader should internalize and use to build strong teams.
Recently, in my congregational context, I led a half-day staff off-site and then an overnight retreat for our Elders where we experienced what Glaser is writing about. We spent time intentionally clarifying what is important about our leadership culture, building relationships with each other (especially those who are new) and having honest conversations about the year ahead.
To do this work, we focused on a passage of scripture, from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In it, he is describing the way that the new community, the Church, would think, speak and act toward each other as well as to the watching world. The words are so rich, and apply to church staffs, leadership boards as well as many other organizations that one might lead.
It says:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[e] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[f] do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;[g] for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Reading through these words of scripture line by line, we talked about what they would mean for us. We used white butcher paper and put everybody’s ideas up on it. We used sticky notes to cluster our thoughts. We sat in a circle, allowing for the non-verbal cues to be noticed, and people to have a chance to speak.
This scene, which is experienced in one form or another in all sorts of healthy organizations, is an example of what Glaser is trying to get across. A critique of the book is that she surrounds this core idea with too much material. It takes what should be a crisp, enjoyable read, and makes it more of a textbook than a guidebook.
One example of this is the sheer number of acronyms and mnemonics that Glaser invents or includes. There is the TRUST model, there is REALITY, there are the FORCES that impact trust: “Fairness, Ownership, Reciprocity, Cooperation, Expression, Status.”The list goes on: the Ladder of Conclusions, the Seven Conversation, the STAR modeland more.
Early in the book, Glaser shares an anecdote about one of her first leadership-coaching clients. She explains how she was not self-aware enough at the time to really help this individual. She writes, “coaching requires you to know yourself first; from that platform you can help others know themselves.” For someone whose work centers on self-knowledge, Glaser should know herself and her audience a bit better.
With all of that being said, Conversational Intelligence offers a lot to a leader looking for frameworks and patterns for a team. With my own leaders, focusing on Romans 12 and talking about how we can know and care for each other is just a simple expression of what Glaser’s work is all about. It is an ongoing project to bind people together with love, which is what Saint Paul seemed to know. Judith Glaser knows it, too.
“Good Reads,” www.goodreads.com, accessed September 20, 2018, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17801996-conversational-intelligence.