Great Leaders Conduct Great Meetings

The mention of the word meeting will cause most people to groan. Experiences of wastefulness, boredom, confusion and frustration often prompt such a response. Most business experts agree that the vast majority of meetings fail to meet their objective: agreeing to workable decisions to meet established goals.

Top executives typically spend at least 50% of their time in meetings; somewhat less for middle management. As popular as the idea may be to some, absolving or avoiding meetings is not an option. Issues need to be discussed and resolved, and no leader can do this alone. Collective efforts are required to undertake complex challenges, where multiple points of view and a wide range of expertise are needed.

The key is to conduct meetings effectively and make productive use of the participants’ time. But, according to Elise Keith, author of Where the Action Is (Second Rise, 2018), less than one in four leaders are trained to run a meeting. On-the-job learning is rarely adequate. How a meeting is conducted reveals much about the leader heading it and may also be an indicator of how the company is run.

The most successful companies have the most fruitful meetings, where leaders have the skills to bring people together for productive discussions with meaningful outcomes, founded on building consensus. A few simple principles can be employed to boost meeting success and employee willingness to attend. An experienced executive coach can help leaders hone the personal skills needed to improve meeting facilitation.

Preparation is Paramount

Meetings are only as effective as the level of preparedness of the participants. Everyone’s time is waisted if meeting topics are a surprise. The preparation of the attenders is established by the preparedness of the meeting leader. Inviting people to a meeting is not enough. A clear agenda is needed, and it must be distributed to participants with enough time to allow them to be ready for the planned discussion. Leaders who provide their attenders with a realistic, clear agenda increase their success rates significantly.

Agenda items can’t be unfamiliar to attenders. As Amy Gallo suggests in a Harvard Business Review article, your people need to be familiar with the topics to understand what’s being discussed. If this isn’t the case, then they need to be informed prior, either via conversations, a preliminary meeting or their own research.

Make your agenda achievable within the meeting timeframe. People will dread attending if your meetings habitually run over, or insignificant enough to not warrant the meeting in the first place. Meetings should be called only when more personal forms of communication are inadequate.

Have necessary materials or documents available for your meetings. If your attendees need to see them ahead of time, distribute the information with enough time for review. Everyone at the meeting should know the materials in front of them. When in doubt, overcommunicate.

Plan your meeting with definitive start and stop times and stick to them. People have more confidence in a leader who manages time well. If you start your meeting on time, those who are late will avoid a repeat, and they will learn to be prompt.

Leaders who plan their meetings with anticipated concerns or questions from their people have a more effective dialogue and better results. Being proactive can avoid difficult or distracting moments and give people more confidence in your concern for them.

Efficiency is Essential

Busy employees try to make the most of their time, hating to waste it. They also appreciate leaders who value them enough not to have their time wasted. This is most noted when it comes to holding meetings. When meetings are loosely run, dragging on and getting little done, the time-wasting alarm goes off in every participant’s head.

Alternatively, efficient meetings are greatly appreciated and often favorably anticipated. People who attend productive meetings feel benefitted and know they can do their jobs better. Their motivation, attitude and productivity rise. When meetings are boring and wasteful, people feel depleted, frustrated and farther from their goals. When leaders conduct efficient meetings, the enhancement of the culture is significant.

One of the most valuable aspects of an effective meeting is brevity. Keeping meetings short and sweet benefits your people in numerous ways. A lot of ground can be covered in thirty minutes when effective tactics are used. People can’t take much more than an hour without regretting the experience. A recent trend is the stand-up meeting. The idea is that standing can be endured for less time than sitting, so everyone is motivated to wrap things up promptly.

Small talk and rabbit trails are common, but your facilitating skills need to bring people back on track. This can be done kindly and considerately, while being firm enough to get the job done on time. Electronic devices also distract the group and should be set aside until the meeting is concluded. Of course, leading by example is the best way to convey these approaches.

Another efficiency-related strategy is to get as much participation from the group as possible. Keep your people engaged by asking questions and requesting individual responses. The more diverse the feedback, the more thorough the discussion, and the better the resulting decisions will be. Balancing discussion with brevity is a master-facilitator skill.

Follow-up is Foundational

Effective leaders recognize that what takes place after meetings can be just as important as what happens during them. Following up with your people ensures that what was assigned or decided has a greater chance of succeeding. Summarize your meeting discussions before the meeting concludes, and make sure everyone is on the same page and understands what you expect of them. This is best facilitated by assigning names and dates to action items, not hoping someone picks up the ball.

Credit people with good ideas as you wrap up. This encourages more participation and yet more ideas. Following their activities afterwards keeps these ideas fresh and likely to bear fruit. When you empower your people to run with their ideas and prove themselves, they will reflect the benefits of your meeting discussions.

A valuable asset resulting from a meeting is a written record of what was discussed and decided. Leaders who make sure minutes are taken make their meetings more effective by giving all participants a copy. Things left to memory are often lost. Develop the collective mindset that the minutes are the roadmap everyone is held accountable to.

As action items are pursued, successful leaders request reports and updates to keep the group informed and moving forward. With this continuous flow of information, team members are able to perform at their best. Everyone reaps the rewards when leaders run effective meetings.

An often-overlooked aspect of meeting follow-up is the celebration of progress on the items previously planned and discussed. Letting your people know they’re appreciated, valued and contributing to the success of the organization builds their confidence and self-worth. Your meetings will get progressively more effective when your people are motivated to shine and support you. Following these basic principles develops a culture where meetings undergird the quality of progress you and your people make.

Raising Your Leadership Bar

In today’s breakneck corporate culture, many leaders have redefined their success. Merely keeping up with the chaos has become an acceptable goal. The trend in organizational management is to focus on staying afloat and ponder the future if time allows. The common theme is do more with less.

Unfortunately, this attempt to enhance the profit picture as much as possible has created unprecedented levels of stress, dysfunction and disappointment for leaders. The time leaders can afford to spend on their leadership skills and personal growth, as critical as these areas are, seems to shrink every year. Leaders are under increasing pressure to make their companies all they can be, with little time taken to making themselves all they can be.

The most successful leaders use sound approaches to assess their work and determine what they can do to improve what they do. They understand that their company will prosper if they personally prosper as an effective leader with the best approach, ability, mindset and stability. How they go about raising their personal bar is the key.

What’s Your Perspective?

If chaos is the norm for you, have you ever contemplated how you can change that? Perhaps a more basic question is: do you recognize the detrimental effects that chaos has on you? The most effective leaders have learned to step back, even if only briefly at first, to assess their leadership situation: their career, influence, personal growth and satisfaction. They ask themselves important questions and try to find answers:

  • What are the things in my role that I should continue doing?
  • What are the things in my role that I should change?

These are prominent concerns all leaders should address, according to leadership expert and author Peter Bregman in, Leading with Emotional Courage: How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, and Inspire Action on Your Most Important Work (Wiley, 2018). These areas are foundational in developing the character, skills and desires to lead well.

Other related thoughts:

  • What would it look like if you became all you could be?
  • What’s keeping you from getting there?
  • How best can you alter the things that are holding you back?
  • What character traits are worth developing in this endeavor?

Leaders who deliberately find time to explore these areas are richly rewarded. They grow in their abilities and value, make more use of the skills they have and enter new avenues of opportunity and success. Find a way to schedule more time for these kinds of thoughts. A seasoned executive coach is an excellent resource to guide you through this process. Few leaders see things objectively enough when dealing with their inner workings. A second set of eyes spots things you can’t.

Leaders make the most progress in self-development by cutting through the clutter, looking at the big picture and making basic, yet profound adjustments. This may require courage, patience and determination.

Bregman suggests four fundamental categories that leaders can examine to enhance their mindset, value and purpose:

  • Clarity
  • Focus
  • Intentionality
  • Balance

Find a Clear Theme

Clarity is the ability to see things as they are with an accurate perception and understanding. It’s a freedom from uncertainty or confusion. It’s the skill to grasp fundamental truths and distinguish false alternatives. Clarity of mind stands as a basic framework to hang other usable skills, and successful leaders learn how to find it.

According to Bregman, one of the most distinguishing character traits successful leaders possess is clarity. This encompasses not only reaching a state of clarity, but continuing to embody it. In other words, providing clarity to others is just as vital as establishing it within yourself. After all, what is the point of a leader being clear if no one else benefits from it?

In the effort to be all you can be as a leader and determine how to move forward, you need to assess your recent performance and frame your effectiveness. Ask yourself what things went well. Just as important, ask what kinds of things did not go well. Putting together an historical picture helps to reveal patterns. The next step is to discern common causes for the things that did not go well. The goal is to find a personal theme behind it all, as Bregman suggests.

You may find your theme to be similar to these:

  • Emotions get in the way of clear thinking and reasonable responses. When I have calm responses rather than emotional reactions, outcomes are much better.
  • Overthinking makes things more complicated. When I break things down into simple compartments, solutions are more effective and longer lasting.
  • Rushing to conclusions with impatience takes me down terrible paths. Taking a more deliberate approach, dealing with one step at a time, yields a better understanding and thus better decisions.

Your theme determines the corrective action needed to reverse the affects you don’t want to see.  Make it your ‘theme for clarity”. Let it be simple, doable and easy to remember. Make it your focus every day. For example, if your theme is to slow down, practice slowing down. A deliberate awareness will become an automatic state of mind. Be all you can be by finding your best self-improvement theme.

Sharpen Your Focus

In a fast-paced environment, it’s difficult to think about the future and where you want to go. Understanding what your future looks like and how to reach your full potential requires dedicated, undistracted thought. It requires a sharper focus on the things that matter down the road.

Preparing for the future should be a thoughtful and optimistic matter. Time must be dedicated to evaluating the possibilities and potential. This means that you’ll need to split your time between current tasks and potential or future tasks. This doesn’t necessarily mean an equal split, but some kind of proportionate division, dependent on the circumstances. It comes down to deciding what to let go of in order to focus on the future.

Bregman is keen to point out that this is difficult for many executives, not because of time constraints as much as the common paradigm that non-essential tasks are not productive and have no apparent return. The culture has us convinced that only the tasks that provide a quantifiable return (and quickly) are worth pursuing. Leaders who’ve become all they can be know this to be untrue.

Future goals are gradually achieved by working in ways that, on the surface, have no short-term rewards, but in principle have great long-term payback. This includes networking and building relationships, daily writing or journaling, learning new personal skills and reading. The key is to continuously improve yourself and your prospects while understanding that these activities may not support your immediate role. It requires a renewed focus and dedication.

Be More Intentional

Leaders are busier than ever and have no energy to spare. Bregman reminds leaders who want to be all they can be that they need to be strategic about their time and energy. They must be productive, and that requires optimal focus and effectiveness. Being fatigued makes this much more difficult. Leaders can’t be busy just to be busy. Their time must count.

An intentional approach focuses on the most beneficial areas, and thinking can be one of them. You find what matters most by recognizing that the things bringing you the most joy are just as important as the things bringing the organization the most benefit. The intention is to pursue both.

Joy is important to grow and refresh. It permits you to apply yourself and have a positive perspective in your role. A significant aspect of finding joy is to let go of the things that annoy, frustrate or drain you. Many leaders find doses of refreshment by letting emails go for a while. Take a step back from time to time and let go of worries.

Many leaders get worn down by wasting their time. Ineffective meetings, reports or trips take their toll. Make note of how you spend your effort, and you’ll see how much of it could be more fruitful. Make an intentional decision to change this as much as you can by revising your routine, commitments and habits. How can you reduce frustration and increase joy?

Do you spend too much unproductive time on the internet? Are all the meetings you attend necessary? Eliminate time wasters, but don’t obsess over it. If you want to reach your maximum potential, you must be intentional about your goals and the methods you’ll employ to achieve them.

Balancing Work and Life

Our culture has brainwashed us into believing that our occupations determine our identities and our productivity indicates our value. Breaking this unfortunate mindset is a struggle for most leaders.

Technology facilitates this myth. Leaders can be accessed virtually everywhere, whether they are on company property or not. As Bergman rightly observes, the workplace is now everywhere. We can’t escape the demands and expectations put on us. The boundaries between work and personal life are gone. Leaders battle this boundary invasion, and their debased sense of value bleeds over into home life, where none of the work-related demands should be.

Leaders who’ve become all they can be have decided that their role at work is important, but not all-defining. They’ve learned to sense self-worth in all aspects of their lives: with family, friends, activities and personal growth. Their resulting joy and satisfaction help them to engage in all that they do with optimism and effectiveness. The key is not necessarily dividing their lives into work and non-work time, but finding a way to balance them such that they complement each other. 

Time management techniques at work can reduce the in-office demand and open up more non-work time. Establish a routine that helps you cover more bases in less time using the resources and staff available to you. Think ahead, anticipate demands and plan for multiple situations. This can reduce your stress and let you be fresher for the office and at home.

Similarly, more joy at home allows you to be more positive and fruitful at work. The most well-rounded leaders have found ways to enrich their relationships and activities at home, bringing more pleasure to life. Your family deserves more from you than what’s left over from what your employer takes. Many leaders have found that a richer work life is built on a foundation of a richer personal life.

Save your sanity and energy and bring a fresh approach to each day. If you balance the aspects of your life, you’ll have a more fulfilling identity and a richer purpose. These are the best paths to becoming all you can be as a leader.