Transforming Chit Chat into Productivity

Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soup (2001 to 2011) knows how to stay on task; all successful leaders do.

He’s setting up his office in Philadelphia after retiring from Campbell’s on July 31. When he picked up the phone, he was unpacking boxes.

I asked him what was happening in his life. Doug has a steady tone and demeanor, something most leaders of large organizations possess. He told me about his desire and opportunity to give back to the leadership community.

I’d made a decision not to get “serious” with Doug until he brought up his book or some other leadership topic. A few minutes into our call he ask, “How can I help.” His question wasn’t abrupt. But it focused us on task.

Leaders skillfully move conversations from casual chit chat to productive exchanges. It would have been normal for Doug to let me to lead the conversation but I held back, so Doug gently stepped up.

Leaders seldom wait. Leaders take initiative.

Chit chat expresses interest in others and builds a connection but it doesn’t build organizations.

You need clear objectives to turn casual conversations into productive exchanges. Doug’s book, TouchPoints, explains how.

It may seem harsh or cold for me to put-down office chit chat. It may seem manipulative.

It’s nearly impossible, however, to engage in extended chit chat with a leader. They don’t talk about the weather unless it’s impacting the organization. They’re focused on bigger issues.

You can always spot the leaders in the room; they’re consumed with going somewhere.

When Doug asked, “How can I help?” I responded, “Let’s talk office politics.” Come back Friday for his response.

Reader’s note: I’m so far behind on some recent book giveaways that I’m not planning one this time.

How do you move casual interactions to productive exchanges?


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