Critical Conversations as Leadership: New Book Teaches How To Drive Change

Critical Conversations as Leadership by William Donohue book cover
Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Leaders drive change, writes Bill Donohue, a Distinguished Professor of Communication at Michigan State University. That driving process happens through a series of critical conversations.

As we work each day, we talk with managers, coworkers, clients—but we rarely think about how we are approaching these conversations that define our lives. In this must-read primer for anyone interested in leadership, Donohue describes our possible approaches to these conversations as a card game he calls Card Talk.

Donohue’s new step-by-step guide is called Critical Conversations as Leadership: Driving Change with Card Talk. This is practical advice that can immediately benefit anyone through this thoughtful metaphor of a card game that prompts pragmatic questions. Consider: As I am approaching a critical conversation today, which card should I play?

Donohue explains the many meanings of these cards in our deck of possible approaches and responses. He walks readers through the process of selecting the right cards to play—so that we are thinking strategically about how to convey important messages and successfully lead our organizations. His idea is crystal clear: Think of a critical conversation as a game. What’s the best way to play? His ideas are thought provoking: Have I been undermining my own organization through poor interactions with others? How can I communicate more effectively? What cards could I play? It’s simply a fun idea to think of key interactions as games. Donohue taps into our best creative impulses.

Playing Donohue’s Decision-making Game with a group requires many different cards to be played. Critical Conversations as Leadership teaches when to use the Leadership Card, the Colleague card, The Expert Card and many others to promote a team atmosphere and allow individuals to freely exchange information. The goal Donohue describes in this new book is not adversarial—it’s collaboration and successful cooperation as an organization.

So many leaders struggle to find the right approach to communication that effects positive change. Using the common language of the card game, Donohue masterfully helps each of us identify the various role cards that we have in our life’s deck and the best ones to play in various situations. In this way, we become more self-aware and able to effectively interact with others in a manner tailored to the situation.

Sonja Fritzsche, Associate Dean
College of Arts and Letters, Michigan State University

Situational leadership has always been more art than science, and Bill’s book provides a great framework for you to use as you have to shift between the different roles in both your work and personal life. A great read.

James Franz, Managing Director
Demmer Center for Transformation, Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University

Bill Donohue has written a must-read primer for anyone in a leadership capacity. Read this book—and learn from one of the best.

Kathleen A. Franz, Executive Director
The Axia Institute, Michigan State University

The most important expectation that followers have of leaders is that they lay out a vision for the organization. Readers will learn how to play the Vision Game, the communication effort needed to sell and sustain their vision. Thanks in part to the internet, today’s customers expect to interact with companies. Customers play a variety of cards and companies need to know how to respond effectively. Playing the Customer Engagement Game welcomes customers and builds loyalty.

Donohue covers a wide range of common interactions. One of the dreaded exchanges in any company, performance appraisals, can become a game with effective conversational cards that turn a painful process into an opportunity to inspire and energize team members. Many of us also dread having to prepare a presentation for a large group. Donohue turns that challenge into a Presentation Game with multiple cards that promote problem solving and can generate effective discussion with your audience. And, of course, negotiating is another often adversarial, stressful process. That does not need to be the case, Donohue tells readers—if you play your cards right.

Bill Donohue’s Critical Conversations is an engaging book well worth reading. His card game metaphor reflects a blend of themes from role theory, symbolic interaction, and games people play. He captures the dynamics of conversations with advice on how to read situations, knowing which card to play, and how to switch cards as the situation unfolds. While reading the book I played the learner and colleague cards while Bill was the expert and presenter. These roles were in sync, resulting in a terrific experience for me and a laudatory endorsement for the book. No doubt about it, Donohue plays his cards well and emerges as a leader in communication research and practice. I urge you to give this book a go. Your career may depend on absorbing its lessons.

Daniel Druckman
George Mason University (Arlington, Virginia), Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia), University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia)

Finally, realizing that mistakes happen to even the most seasoned veterans of critical conversations, Donohue also addresses the most common mistakes in tense interactions. The final chapter of Critical Conversations as Leadership will walk you through these common mistakes and prepare you for successful critical conversations.

William A. Donohue is currently a Distinguished Professor of Communication at Michigan State University. He came to Michigan State from The Ohio State University where he received his Ph.D. in in the field of Communication. Dr. Donohue’s teaching and research focuses primarily on sales communication, conflict resolution, leadership and project evaluation. Critical Conversations as Leadership is his 13th book. He is also the author of the book: Card Talk: Winning Communication Games. Dr. Donohue has consulted extensively with many public and private sector organizations in the areas of sales, communication skills, and leadership development. Dr. Donohue has created two Internet-based assessment and educational development businesses, the most recent one of which is Medical Professional Performance Systems. He is the author of over 80 articles about various communication and conflict issues and has won several awards for his scholarship from national and international professional associations.

Critical Conversations as Leadership: Driving Change with Card Talk
William A. Donohue
Front Edge Publishing, LLC
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About Susan Stitt

Susan Stitt is marketing director of Front Edge Publishing. Over the years, she has guided many authors through the challenging process of launching books and developing strategies that will grow readership. She also has worked widely with nonprofits. Now, she shares her expertise twice each month on our Front Edge Publishing website.

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