In case you haven’t noticed, the world has changed just a bit over the last twenty years. The nature of work itself has changed too. Yet too many managers still believe their employees just came from the farm to the city and need to be told what to do as they take their place on the assembly line.
We’re using 19th century industrial-age management practices in a 21st-century age of networked knowledge.
As a result, millions of people are unhappy at work, organizations are operating well below their potential, leaders are frustrated, and almost everyone feels stressed out. In spite of the moderate uptick in the economy no one I know believes things are working they way they should be.
At one level the problem is simple: the world has changed in several fundamental ways, but the way most organizations operate has not. There is a terrible misalignment between the work and the workforce, on the one hand, and our leadership principles and practices, on the other.
As a case in point, in North America alone there are over 11 million corporate meetings held every day – every day! – but I have yet to find anyone who is just dying for their next meeting to start.
However, as Fast Company founder Alan Webber pointed out over twenty years ago, conversation is at the heart of knowledge-based work. In fact, I believe conversation is as important for human beings as water is for fish.
It’s time to confront the fact that we don’t know how to talk to – make that “talk with” – each other about things that matter. Most organizational leaders are clinging to an outmoded and downright dangerous view of how to make organizations work, and how to produce value in an economy that depends on networks, collaboration, and innovation to meet customer needs.
Changing our conversations – and making meetings meaningful again – isn’t simple. But it isn’t that difficult either. I am convinced that learning to lead an effective meeting is not really about learning a new skillset; there are hundreds of books about how to run a meeting, and most organizational leaders have read a dozen of them.
No, meeting leadership is much more about adopting the right mindset – an attitude, emotional outlook, and curiosity about the future that generates openness to collaboration, an appreciation for diversity, and a genuine delight when a team produces results that are far better than anyone could have come up with on their own.
I know it’s far easier to describe the mindset of an effective leader than it is to build one, but without the right mindset even the best meeting leadership skills in the world won’t matter.
Successful team leaders believe that:
- A group is far more intelligent and experienced than any single member. Remember, no one is smarter than everyone. And that includes them!
- People can learn and grow. And that includes themselves. Be open to learning from anyone about anything. Remember that you are already in a position of leadership; you don’t have to prove that you are smarter or better informed than the other participants.
Those beliefs in turn generate principles like these:
- Focus on broad goals everyone agrees with. Start the conversation with common goals and seek win/win solutions whenever possible.
- Respect individual differences. Remember that there is only one of you, and there is only one of everybody else in the world. And it’s not only individual experiences and knowledge; just as important are the different talents and different ways of processing and responding to information and other people that each person brings to every conversation.
- Be mindful of others’ responsibilities, constraints, and needs. Unless you believe it is absolutely necessary, don’t ask other participants to make commitments or agree with positions that will make their lives more difficult. Respecting their individual circumstances includes avoiding putting them into difficult positions or endangering their personal and professional relationships.
- Suspend judgment. Hear people out and be sure you understand their ideas in sufficient depth before you decide (and certainly before you communicate) whether those ideas are useful and relevant, or a distraction.
- Enter every conversation with an open and curious mind. You just never know what experiences and relevant knowledge the other participant(s) might bring to the conversation.
- Look for common ground. Find areas of agreement, or at least where the meeting participants’ insights overlap. Build on that sense of commonality to move towards consensus, or at least to find something that everyone can agree on. Once you’ve established that common ground it will be much easier (and less stressful) to explore areas of disagreement.
- Authenticity trumps ego. Admit it when you don’t know an answer, or need help. Express the emotions you are experiencing; for example, if someone comes up with an exciting and innovative idea, thank them or praise them (but only if you genuinely mean it).
- Reinforce constructive behaviors in others. When someone else offers thanks, or praise, thank them in turn. Acknowledge the behaviors that help move the conversation forward, and over time you will see more of them.
Based on your own experience, what have I left out? I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Contact me for a free conversation about how to build mindsets that lead to memorable meetings and extraordinary results.