Leading around the Table

As a leader you might be lucky enough to be seen or heard, but without embracing the table you and those you lead will struggle to know and be known. Authentic community, that place where I am seen, heard and known, championed and challenged, fruitful and flourishing can be expounded in the auditorium but it is experienced around the table.

Relationships may begin in the auditorium but they continue at the table. The auditorium is a forum to make acquaintances. The table is the place to make friends. The auditorium provides us with the opportunity to go wide. The table provides us with the opportunity to go deep. If our relationships are confined to the auditorium they will at best be superficial – if this is the extent of our connection and influence as leaders our relationships will be as dissatisfying as our roots are shallow.

In the pursuit of the crowd leaders often underestimate the power of the table and overestimate the power of the platform as places of influence and transformation. However, the platform is at its most powerful when those standing on it realise it’s not their platform or position that makes them powerful.

The table is where servant leaders spend most of their time because whilst they may be (though not always) comfortable on the platform they understand the world is changed one person at a time. Servant leaders are as enthusiastic about sitting around the table asking questions as they are about standing on the platform providing answers. This is reflected in their expense claims which include more coffees than conferences.

As a leader you can learn more from sandwiches than surveys!

Most business leaders understand the importance of customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. But they tend to rely exclusively on surveys to measure CSAT, Net Promoters, and employee engagement. Surveys which, on the whole, are neither satisfying nor engaging. In the process business overestimates the power of data and underestimates the value of dialogue.

Leaders, if you really want to know how happy your customers are or how engaged your employees are, don’t just send a survey, take a sandwich!

The quality of the dialogue is as important as the quality of the data.

Mark Lawrence is a leadership and culture consultant