All too often we hear complaints about meetings being misguided, unproductive, and a waste of time. For a good leader, this perception should raise a huge red flag.
Meetings are actually wonderful opportunities to further a project, encourage productive dialogue, gain buy-in, and build collegial relationships in the workplace. A skilled leader recognizes the importance of meetings and knows how to handle them in a way that optimizes their outcomes.
Here are five key ways a skilled leader gets the most out of meetings.
Everyone knows that a meeting without a clearly defined and communicated purpose is a recipe for futility.
Successful leaders, however, will go beyond merely providing a purpose statement. They will arrive at a meeting knowing what they need to get out of it and they will be prepared to steer the meeting in the right direction should the conversation go off-topic. A creative approach that can be useful in meetings is to map out the agenda using a visual diagram, such as a mind map, and use it to document discussion points, decisions, and action items during the meeting.
In a meeting, it can be easy to misunderstand what others are saying. It's also easy to be misunderstood. When speaking in front of people - and, in some cases, on the spot - there is a risk that messages may come across in a skewed or less than clear way. A great leader recognizes this risk and takes steps to ensure that everyone is speaking the same language. This could include developing an annotated agenda that includes key messages, coming to the meeting prepared with speaking points, and taking the time to speak slowly and asking others to clarify any positions that seem vague. This is just as important for a small team meeting as it is for a large board meeting.
Imagine the worst meeting you've been to. Did the chair point fingers, assign blame, or - worst of all - resort to threats? This is no way to run a meeting, nor is it an acceptable way to treat staff. Conversely, a good leader will run a meeting in a way that fosters respect, empathy, and professionalism. Productive meetings focus on strategy, information, and decision-making.
A way to ensure this is to never go into a meeting blind. Know what the problems are before the meeting starts, so you can react in a calm and professional manner.
Along the same lines, a good leader will ensure that their meetings are safe places to disagree. Strong leaders know that success doesn't come from surrounding yourself with 'yes-men'. To make the most of a meeting, it's important to consistently and repeatedly focus on results - and not on egos. If you demonstrate to others, through consistent actions, that you will value and respect different opinions, you will build trust and encourage meaningful dialogue. You never know from where, or from whom, the next great idea will come!
In fostering professionalism, there can be a tendency to become distant, disconnected, and impersonal. A good leader knows how to maintain professionalism, while building meaningful relations with staff. Don't be afraid to get to know your people personally. After a tough meeting, buy everyone a round of drinks or find other ways to relax and build camaraderie. Get to know them, and let them know you, too.
Meetings hold great potential. By treating each meeting as an opportunity, you can create a culture where meetings are respected and productive, and seen as a positive part of the business day. Take lessons from great leaders, and don't settle for mediocre meetings.