‘Yes, but the whole meeting should be designed in such a way that we get them where we want’. That were tough words and it framed the meeting unequivocally. My client knew what she wanted. And she was not willing to let others interfere with her plans.
I was preparing a 2-day retreat and I was becoming increasingly worried. Discussions were to be planned as thoroughly as possible, leaving no space for unknown questions and answers. Everyone needed to be drawn towards the same conclusion. No improvisation, no uncertainty, no personal input (though that was definitely not the message I should be conveying when leading the meeting).
The 2nd rule for engaging meetings at work
Did it work? Not really. The results from the meeting were mixed. Some found it good others not. But within this organisation these were the kind of meetings people were used to, so they were happy with what they got.
‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’.
Of course there were issues scheduled for discussion, but these were the leftovers. The meeting die-hards, like usual, were willing to put up a nice energetic show. But the outcome of these decisions would not alter the strategic course set out by management. The 2nd rule for engaging meetings was definitely at work here.
Listening as the most important skill for 21st century leaders
I was following a discussion on LinkedIn about the main challenge for 21st century leadership in one word. I added ‘openness’ to the already long and impressive list. And at hindsight I would add a 2nd one: leading good meetings. Openness is about getting in touch with your people on the floor, leading good meetings is about guiding their positive energy fruitfully towards a common decision.
How to develop such skills?
The key is listening, being receptive and doing so genuinely. The latter is the hard part. The client I used as an example was at least clear about her unwillingness to listen. But in many cases, leaders (and all other humans) say they listen but actually don’t. They have their own ideas, opinions and judgements ready before their counterparts even open their mouths.
Start an improv course
Improvisation exercises are great tools to reveal this process. With ‘improv’ you find yourself in situations where the unexpected rules. You never know what will come. At every moment you’re dependent on the input from your counterpart. If you build upon your own thoughts and ideas you loose your counterpart and the results will be poor. If there is an audience (like most leaders have) they will dislike you for your inability to listen.
So what? What does it matter that my people do not like me. And I agree. That doesn’t matter much. What matters is that the results are often greater if you listen, if you improvise on what your counterparts or audience give you.
Therefore I would say to all leaders who want greater results: train to listen genuinely and start getting loved by your audience. Start now and take an ‘improv’ course.