In this book, I have tried to share with you my deep conviction that conversations matter and that they are at the root of what is wrong in so many areas of business today—and are the key to so much that is right. I want to leave you with a few short words about what you actually get out of focusing on Chocolate Conversations.
There is a tangible difference in companies that communicate well, internally and externally, and you can see it in their EPS—earnings per share. Their leaders have the confidence that comes of really knowing what’s going on in the organization. Their employees have a clear sense of where they’re going, why they do what they do, and how to constructively express their concerns. The company itself is nimble and adaptable, comfortable with the dynamic and changing environment we see today. Their customers feel the company is responsive to their needs and innovative in meeting them. You can see the results clearly in performance. Companies like Apple, like Southwest Airlines, like Facebook, like Verizon Wireless, like Netflix, and like many of the others we’ve talked about are perfect examples of this. They are relevant, growing, and able to scale. And they’ve all figured out how worldviews, standards, and concerns work for their leaders, their people, their stockholders, and their customers. None of these companies eat up time and money having Chocolate Conversations.
There’s something else you get out of focusing on Chocolate Conversations that is personal to you as a leader. I’d put this in the category of “intangibles that have tangible effect.” When you make complete conversations and message discipline a priority for yourself, it has an enormous impact on your personal brand as a leader. You come across to your direct reports, your peers, your CEO, and your board as an insightful person, who is able to make sense out of seeming chaos and get people moving in the right direction just by talking to them. This is a powerful component of your leadership. You, as an individual, build up what is in essence an emotional bank account, with all the people who know you. As you interact with people in a way that shows them you are trustworthy, keep your promises, extend courtesies, are clear, seek to understand their positions and so on, you make “deposits” into your bank account. This gives you the standing to lead people through challenging times, because you have earned the ability to do so. If you have been derailed by chocolate conversations, people may think that you break promises they thought they heard, fail to extend courtesies, appear duplicitous or arrogant, or focus on making others understand you first. These are all “withdrawals” from the same account that can sap your strength as a leader.
Your understanding of how your people and your customers see you and your company is a direct link to being relevant and fueling growth. When you really connect with purpose and listen instead of just “tell and sell,” people see you as consistent, following through on what you promise, unambiguous, and respectful. This fosters a tangible level of trust that lends great strength to your company, and again, is a reflection on your strength and standing as a leader.
I keep saying that conversations have more power than any of us realize. This is where leadership really happens—in the conversations between corporate leaders and their people, between government heads and their constituents, conversations on the world stage and most recently, the conversation that played out in public between financial institutions and regulators. Were those conversations clear? Did you sense who had a handle on their business and who didn’t? Were people’s standards considered? Did expectations get met? Are we still hearing concerns from everyone—those directly involved and those observing?
You and I both know that a focused leader can avoid the meltdown and grow his or her business even in difficult economic times. So go for it. Move beyond talking generalities and sharing worldviews. Get down to the standards and uncover the expectations people have. Deal with concerns before they come up. Focus relentlessly on relevance. Don’t let Chocolate Conversations be the difference between explosive growth and corporate meltdown. After all, leading Bittersweet change doesn’t mean you have to have bittersweet conversations. Why not have rich satisfying ones that transform your business?