Six Conversations: A Process that Creates Accountability and Commitment

By Peter Block

The Invitation Conversation. Transformation occurs through choice, not mandate. Invitation is the call to create an alternative future. What is the invitation we can make to support people to participate and own the relationships, tasks, and process that lead to success?

The invitation must contain a hurdle or demand if accepted. It is a challenge to engage. Most leadership initiatives or training are about how we get or “enroll” people to do tasks and feel good about doing things they may not want to do. Change is a self-inflicted wound. People need to “self-enroll” in order to experience their freedom of choice and commitment.

The leadership task is to name the debate, issue the invitation, and invest in those who choose to show up. Those who accept the call will bring the next circle of people into the conversation.

The Ownership Conversation is one that focuses on whose organization or task is this? The conversation begins with the question, “how have I contributed to creating the current reality?” Confusion, blame and waiting for someone else to change are a defense against ownership and personal power.

The enemy of ownership is innocence and indifference. The future is denied with the response, “it doesn’t matter to me–whatever you want to do is fine?” This is always a lie and just a polite way of avoiding a difficult conversation around ownership. People best create that which they own and co-creation is the bedrock of accountability. It is the belief that I am cause, not effect. The leadership task is to confront people with their freedom.

The Possibility Conversation is one that focuses on what we want our future to be as opposed to problem solving the past. This is based on an understanding that living systems are really propelled to the force of the future. The possibility conversation frees people to innovate, challenge the status quo, and create new futures that make a difference. In new work environments this conversation has the ability for breaking new ground and in understanding the prevailing culture.

Problem solving and negotiation of interests makes tomorrow only a little different from yesterday. Possibility is a break from the past and opens space for a future we had only dreamed of. Declaring a possibility wholeheartedly is the transformation. The leadership task is to postpone problem solving and stay focused on possibility until it is spoken with resonance and passion.

The Dissent Conversation is allowing people the space to say “no”. If we cannot say “no” then our “yes” has no meaning. People have a chance to express their doubts and reservations, as a way of clarifying their roles, needs, and yearnings within the vision and mission being presented. Genuine commitment begins with doubt, and “no” is a symbolic expression of people finding their space and role in the strategy. It is when we fully understand what people do not want that we can fully design what they want. Refusal is the foundation for commitment. The leadership task is to surface doubts and dissent without having an answer to every question.

The Commitment Conversation is about individuals making promises to their peers about their contribution to the success of the whole organization. It is centered in two questions: What promise am I willing to make to this enterprise? And, what is the price I am willing to pay for the success of the whole effort? It is a promise for the sake of a larger purpose, not for the sake of personal return. The leadership task is to reject lip service and demand either authentic commitment or ask people to say no and pass. We need the commitment of much fewer people than we thought to create the future we have in mind.

The Gifts Conversation. What are the gifts and assets we bring to the enterprise? Rather than focus on our deficiencies and weaknesses, which will most likely not go away, focus on the gifts we bring and capitalize on those. Instead of problematizing people and work, the conversation is about searching for the mystery that brings the highest achievement and success in work organizations. Confront people with their essential core that has the potential to make the difference and change lives for good. This resolves the unnatural separation between work and life. The leadership task is to bring the gifts of those on the margin into the center.

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