I used to prepare for important meetings by writing down the key points I wanted to convey. I’d try to anticipate what people’s responses would be and prepare for those as well. In a sense, I was trying to do as much as I could to ‘script’ the conversation. I did this whether I was planning for a ‘one on one’ or team meeting that I felt was particularly important or potentially emotional. Preparing like this made me feel safer and reduced the prospect of me being surprised. Being unprepared made me feel vulnerable.
The problem was that invariably the conversation or meeting would take an unexpected turn. Because I was so locked into my own agenda I’d get thrown off and become clumsy and stiff. I’d do everything I could to bring the meeting back to where I wanted it to go rather than pay attention to what the folks in the meeting were trying to address. Over time, forcing my own agenda on folks and ignoring their concerns eroded my team’s trust in me.
There’s nothing wrong with preparing an agenda or being clear about what we want to achieve at meetings; but I was ignoring the deeper, more important part of the meeting; the part of the meeting that was not cognitive; but affective…consequently, my ability to lead effectively was diminished.
You see there are things going on at meetings…silent, under the radar things, that are really important…whether we’re aware of them or not. Think back to a meeting you participated in that didn’t go well. What was it that made you feel that way?
Perhaps, like me, the leader…
- was so concerned with sticking to the agenda that he cut off some important discussion without resolution.
- had an agenda and was clearly pushing it at you
- wasn’t really listening to you.
- seemed to be frustrated with you when you brought up an issue that wasn’t on the agenda.
- stated that he wanted a dialogue and conversation on the topic but did most of the talking
- was condescending
By the way, bad meetings can happen for other reasons:
- the meeting leader has no agenda and the conversation flails all over the place.
- there’s no commitment to any action after a long discussion.
- even when there is a commitment to action there’s no follow up.
The list is truly endless.
Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our team is making assessments about us and our leadership even if they never verbalize them. Our team’s mood is affected by how trustworthy we’re perceived to be, our tone, how well we listen, and how we show up as people.
Today, I realize there are two parts to every meeting. The overt content that generally dominates our agendas, and the under the radar assessments and mood of the team. I’ve learned to prepare for both parts of the meeting; but with much more emphasis on the silent dynamics.
When I prepare for a meeting I list the outcomes that I would like to achieve at the meeting…but now I include things like:
- I want the team to develop trust in me and/or the team itself.
- I want to be open to what others have to say and not allow my personal agenda to close off possibilities.
- I want to be a good listener.
- I don’t want to be judgmental.
Once I prepare my desired outcomes I spend a few moments preparing myself.
If I want to engender trust or be open to others, I prepare by spending a few moments letting go of all my thoughts and plans and do a bit of mindful breathing, or I might engage in a personal practice I have to open my heart. I might reconnect with my life’s purpose, my beliefs, my values, and my commitments. I do my best to feel the goodness in my own core and in so doing feel the goodness of others.
Preparing for meetings by creating an agenda using my strategic mind to identify the content that needs to be addressed; AND preparing an affective agenda that builds trust and team coherence…using my heart to see beyond the words…
…has made me a much more effective leader.