Conversational Leadership: Finding the Space Between

Core team member Frances Buckingham delves into conversational leadership – the focus of our recent community session that came at the end of our Spring Open Programme.

Conversational Leadership – the focus of our recent She Leads Change community session – centres on the crucial and courageous exchanges that facilitate meaningful change. When we find the space between us for something generative and collaborative to arise, especially on difficult topics or issues that divide us, we lead.

Our community session comes at the end of our Open Programme. In the room a mix of participants from the recent and previous programmes, our coaches, core team and the brave who came with open minds and hearts having no previous experience of She Leads Change.

Conversational Leadership is inspired by many including David Whyte, the poet, author and speaker, who works on the conversational nature of leadership with the view that in organisations many of executives are promoted outside their original area of expertise into the field of human relationships, that are mainly “sustained through holding necessary and courageous conversation”.

Conservation is much more than words, it is energy, emotions, our inner voice, its movement, and it is listening.

Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT and co-founder of the Presencing Institute and the MITx u.lab believes that listening is the most underrated leadership skill. The feedback from the work that he has done with hundreds of people around the world is that “shifting your mode of listening is life-changing”. In his book The Essentials of Theory U he describes four states of listening. Empathic listening (opening the heart to see the situation through the eyes of another) and generative listening (holding space for something new to be born – listening with openness to what is unknown and emerging) hold the most potential for change.

A reminder of the importance of empathic and generative listening led into the exploration of conversation through the lens of self, other and the system. Bringing to mind a crucial conversation, that we may have had, or need to have – we worked with ways of how to be, connect and understand the system within which a conversation is contained.  

We were given space and techniques to be able to engage deeper, to invite what you do not expect, to let go of control, be more generous, courageous and present and be open to the perspectives, aspirations and differences of others. 

And then a prompt to think about how we can ask a beautiful question – an invitation to know and understand someone better – that can shift the conversation into a space that is more mutual and generative.

At the heart of She Leads Change are the stories from the changemakers in our community. One shared was on how at times you can feel so full in conversation – it comes from a place of confidence, of courage and a sense of knowledge. Other times a sense of disconnection from self, operating from a restricted space, thinking only about what we need to say next, knowledge has gone. It was important to share and understand that we may all have those moments, that these feeling of being closed exist, and are valid. That engaging with others takes courage and practice.

Conversational leadership is an artistry. To find the space between us – the edges of ourselves and others where change starts to happen – is not easy but is a choice that we can all make.


With thanks to the co-creators for providing a safe and nurturing space to explore conversational leadership: Elaine McGinty, Emma Cleave, Helen Sadler, Helen Wadhani, Jacqueline Lim, Mirna Bilala, Nicola Millson, Sarah Turner, Shalini Sequira, Sophie Lawrence, Sula Bruce and Violet Koska.

Our next Open Programme starts in September read more and apply here.

Our new Catalyst Programme, is launching in the autumn and we are inviting organisations working on health and well-being to join. Get in touch to learn more.

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