When I was a boy, my Dad said to me:
There are three types of people in this world. There are people who make things happen. And there are people who watch things happen. Then there are the people who simply say, “What happened?”
Rose Fass has written a genuinely brilliant book about being, and staying, in the first category.
And, despite the attractive name, you don’t do that by having “chocolate conversations.” Because chocolate conversations, it turns out, are about as much use as chocolate teapots. And the results are just as messy.
For Fass, all leadership happens “in the conversation.” For leaders, there are no casual conversations. Everything is heard. Or, more to the point, misheard, misinterpreted and misapprehended.
If, asks the author, a simple word like “chocolate” is so capable of multiple interpretation according to who hears it, then what chance the corporate clichés that dominate so much of our business landscape, particularly at senior levels?
Her book, therefore, is a manifesto for clarity in business. Interspersed with practical tools, and some spot-on insights (People will, for example, “follow an ill-directed leader down a path to oblivion rather than speak up and lose their job”), the book should be read by anyone seriously interested in making serious change.
Fass writes that the job of a leader is not just to communicate, but to translate — to make the complex accessible, to each and every person, and in “simple, straightforward language that moves people.” It is very difficult to argue with this. Leaders live or die by what they say because — almost by definition — others will be charged with the actual doing. And those others need to be clear, on an individual level, about what they are being asked to do, and why. This is unequivocally the leader’s responsibility. Without this, Fass says, corporate life very quickly becomes the children’s game “telephone,” writ large — and where the ridiculously mangled results are not funny, but very, very harmful.
She makes a direct correlation between an organization’s propensity towards chocolate conversations and its “addiction to relevance.” Broadly speaking, where the latter isn’t present, the former will be. Stories of both abound in the book, along with a well-founded warning against seeking simply to ape success in other businesses by taking a cookie-cutter — or naïve best practice — approach to one’s own.
The Chocolate Conversation also reveals a very keen, and intelligent, sense of the importance of a well-articulated, and owned, employer brand (although doesn’t express it in those terms) and the importance of that internal expression needing to mirror the external reality of the business. Together, this internal and external clarity of purpose — what Simon Sinek would call the “why?” — is what enables optimal delivery; reframing people’s thinking and then inciting them to action, as Lou Gerstner of IBM had it.
This book (which should probably be two or three; there’s just too much here) will be loved by the brave; the organizations and the people who, per Fass, “go there” when the status quo and the world at large would frankly much rather they didn’t.
It will frighten the life out of the timid, who should read it, but won’t.
They’ll be too busy saying: “What happened?”