Interview with Theo Rinsema, CEO Microsoft, on ‘Conversational Leadership’.
Have the digital changes of the last few years changed the requirements for being a good leader? The context that companies operate in has certainly undergone significant changes. Apart from new possibilities, technological advances have also created a new type of customer as well as a new kind of staff. How do you deal with that if you’re at the head of an organisation?
To get a better idea of this evolution I thought it would be a good idea to interview Theo Rinsema. Theo is the CEO of Microsoft Holland. Microsoft is known as a trailblazer when it comes to the new way of working. Their offices are wonderful, the staff are extremely happy and they bring a very positive attitude to their jobs.
Theo Rinsema’s vision on Conversational Leadership
Q: What has changed for a leader due to our new digital context?
Theo: The philosophy of the new way of working has changed a lot of things for us. For one thing, it has separated status from hierarchy. As a leader, I’ve had to say goodbye to the old status symbols in order to break down barriers and get closer to the staff. The biggest change is the leadership style. The leader no longer has to be dominant or authoritarian; instead, he now assumes a supporting and facilitating role. The authoritarian approach would have the reverse effect in our modern work environment. In other words, you have to be approachable. Many people think it’s sufficient to be available online but that’s a mistake. I’ve noticed that, in companies where it’s easy to talk to the leader in person, there are also a lot of staff talking to their CEO online. If there are too many physical barriers (e.g. CEO stays hidden in his office with his secretary acting as a buffer) people are much less inclined to engage that leader in online conversation. So changing technology is not enough, it’s the mentality that needs to change.
Q: What words would you use to describe a modern leader?
Three words come to mind. The first word is â€˜open’. A modern leader is prepared to communicate with his staff and his clients. A modern leader knows just how to handle feedback and capitalise on it.
The second word is â€˜connecting’. A good leader knows how to connect different visions and different people. In this regard, helping and supporting the team takes precedence over wanting to score every goal yourself.
The final word is â€˜confidence’. Some are deterred by openness and availability because of the feedback of the outside world on their own performance. It takes a confident leader to handle such feedback.
Q: Should we be able to reach our CEO online?
Yes. Social media have made it easier for everyone to contact company leaders. Being accessible (and therefore open) helps improve a company’s reputation. Itâ€˜s a sign of honesty and respect for the client. It also helps the CEO to stay abreast of new developments that impact his market and his clients.
What are the characteristics of Conversational Leadership?
In 2012, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled ‘Leadership is a conversation’. The authors noted that a leader has the greatest impact by spending lots of time with his staff. The more you talk to staff, the bigger your impact. Conversing with staff means that you’re approaching them in an open-minded manner and without prejudice. This openness creates empathy, and empathy builds trust. This trust establishes the basis you need to turn staff into ambassadors of your company.
I’m curious to learn your views on the subject. What characteristics do you feel are indispensable to a Conversational Leader? And can you cite any examples of leaders who fit the picture? Thanks in advance for your input.