Conversations For Career Transformation
Mounica Veggalam | 10-12-2023
Read time: 6 mins
Every conversation is an opportunity to uncover your leadership.
You are responsible for changing how your manager, your report, or your team “thinks.” And you are successful when you’ve moved their mind from the sea of surface-level tasks to a deeper why — why they’re doing what they’re doing — to create more impact.
The way you do this is by setting tight containers for transformation.
Today I’m going to share this framework of containers that some of the best executive coaches I know use to create change.
If you implement this in your daily conversations at work, you’ll feel confident about directly challenging, driving influence in meetings, and making the icky tough decisions.
I got a little delayed with this edition as I was battling with putting my thoughts into a clean framework. I would have had a trashcan full of scrunched papers if I was writing the old-school way. Thank goodness for the digital revolution. 😂
I hope you find today’s issue as game-changing as it was for me. Let’s dive in!
Most strategies for running effective meetings— whether 1-on-1s or team meetings— stop their thinking at the level of efficiency.
Meetings cost time and money. So, understandably you want to make these more “efficient”:
- You set agendas
- You set personal boundaries by saying no
- You get better at execution with action items and followups
But, the problem with this “let’s be more effective” approach is that you get frustrated and annoyed when others don’t follow your rules. (They do it their way or seemingly step over you). You feel disrespected, and you double down on the processes and efficiencies.
And you lead everyone into a rigidity hell and constant low-grade anxiety.
You see, the real problem is that most conversations are kept at a surface level. Most of us avoid getting uncomfortable with even subtle confrontations. Think about it. For any given meeting, especially 1-on-1s, what do people do?
- They go on and on about their personal war stories
- They don’t keep their previous commitments
- They are consistently late or cancel the meetings
- They get into technical details and problem-solving without a clear why
But we easily let them pass and avoid addressing these issues until they blow up.
And when things get out of control, we set rules and try to manage them. All our time and bandwidth go into managing these rules, boundaries, and best practices.
No time for actual work (or to focus on our careers). Eventually, you get a sense of loss of control and start hating your job.
This is why simply working on “effective” with best practices like agenda & action items is not enough.
Legendary leaders don’t try to be “effective.” They are transformational.
They know the true power of what a conversation can create.
A powerful conversation is a point of subtle transformation for everyone involved. Legendary leaders focus on transformation rather than the surface-level “being more effective” strategies.
That’s how they maximize their impact for the time they spend.
The best leaders ask the right questions:
- Why are we having the conversation we’re having?
- What are we hoping to get out of this conversation?
- What are our mutual goals?
- How do we agree to move towards our mutual goals?
- Are we moving towards that or not?
- What’s in the way?
- Do we want that to be moved out of our way?
- What do we already know?
- What experiments do we need to run?
- What do we need to mess up to know more?
- Where are you not thinking independently?
- What would you be committed to?
- What do you need to know you’d get, so you can commit?
These questions help leaders influence people to make powerful commitments that lead to high output and high-performing teams.
The person who entered the conversation is not the same person when they leave the conversation.
A legendary leader leaves the report slightly transformed, with a slightly different way of thinking and a slightly different way of seeing the world.
Okay, sounds grand and all.
But, how is this possible for average folks like us, who run away at the first sign of discomfort, hole up on the couch (or get lost in productive work) and would rather not be known as an aggressive ass?
We want to reframe every conversation, every meeting, and every relationship as a TRANSFORMATIONAL CONTAINER instead of a transaction with rules, boundaries, and best practices.
Containers have 1) Goals 2) Agreements 3) Commitments 4) Support
I believe this is one of the most under-focussed, unexamined aspects of career & leadership today.
You already set containers and are a part of containers. You just don’t know it.
- Your team is a container. Goal: Deliver business results.
- Each team meeting is a container. Goal: Solve a specific problem.
- Your marriage is a container. Goal: Growth partnership.
- Your family is a container, Goal: Mutual joy.
Setting containers is about co-creating a common goal and planting a stake in the ground that both parties can hold onto. When you do this intentionally, your influence becomes powerful. You never get into splitting the difference.
Then, your leadership career is about practicing holding tight containers (which then becomes your spiritual practice).
The big question is, “How?”
Use these questions to define your container and increase your influence
- What is the transformation required? (aka goals)
- What agreements are to be in place for the transformation to occur?
- What commitments do we need to make and hold?
- What support do each of us need?
Each time you get annoyed at your report or the way your meetings are running, ask these questions:
- What goals are misaligned? Do we need new goals?
- What agreements are they not holding? Do we need new agreements?
- What commitments are they breaking? Do we need new commitments?
- What support do we need for our commitments? Do we need new systems?
Then the container holds the potential for transformation and growth.
When you ask these questions, you’re challenging yourself, and the people involved to “think about their thinking.”
You’re holding the potential for them to show up in a new way.
You’re standing alongside them to figure out their goals and change their current behavior to get to those goals.
It’s not about who’s “better,” who’s “wrong,” or who “should change.” It’s about what transformation do we need to unlock. Then the tough conversations are not so tough anymore- they’re conversations about agreements and commitments.
So, next time when your reports/manager breaks your boundaries, try this:
- “We have 15 mins. Is this what you want to talk about, or do you want to discuss how we can do X?” (New Goals)
- “I notice you’re late for the third time. Without making it right or wrong, I want to make sure you’re choosing this. We start on time, and we want you here for the important decisions.” (New Commitments)
- “I see that you’re not yet done with X, which you thought you’d be done by Friday. We want this by Tuesday to have enough time to renew. What support do you need to get it done by then?” (New Commitments and More Support)
Holding transformational containers applies to personal life as well:
- “I can’t commit to being with you every evening and weekend. What else can we do to get our quality time?” (New agreements)
- “I know you’re sad and don’t want to go to school. What do you need to do in 5 minutes so that we get to school on time and have fun?” (More support)
- Don’t set best practices, rules, or boundaries.
- Set containers with goals, agreements, commitments, and support.
- See each meeting, conversation, and relationship as a container holding potential for transformation.