How to be a meeting genius.
Written by Ed Cook
As I step out of a meeting, I wondered nearly aloud: “What was that about?” Yet another hour spent with a group of people, both on the phone and in the room, where NOTHING of any value was accomplished. So much time together, with so little to show for it. And then Ron Swanson (my favorite character from the TV show, Parks and Recreation), ran through my head: “Why don’t people know how to meet?” For those in the know, he actually said “eat” instead of “meet” but it still works.
I wondered why don't people know? Maybe nobody ever showed them? Maybe they haven't experienced a good meeting? With that in mind, here are my Four Guidelines (because there aren’t really rules) to achieve a good meeting.
For those still skeptical that these will make a difference, I ask you to imagine the opposite. People come together, they don't know why, and they are not sure what to do. They do it because others do it. It may be enjoyable but often not productive. To me that's not work, that's playing company. Imagine hearing, “I'll make the agenda!” “I'll get the snacks!” “I'll send out the invite!” Those people are playing, not working. It's silly.
Employ even one of these techniques and you will be a meeting master. Employ them all and you will be a meeting genius.
Practical ways to get you and your team focused, even when you're under stress.
Written by Roxanne Brown
What do you do when you have so much to get done and your team is just not focused? Let's get right into it...
The first thing to do, of course, is to get yourself focused. What you focus on grows, right? Take five minutes to jot down….
Getting a little perspective helps! You could probably come up with a quick game plan with the answers to these questions alone.
But let’s talk about what to do when the team is under stress. In the best case scenario, the team is stressed yet energized toward the goal. They’re into it! It’s awesome! The worst case is when the stress they’re feeling is leaving them deflated or hostile. Getting a team like that to focus can be particularly difficult and no fun.
When a team is stressed and energized, the main thing to do as their leader is to sustain their momentum and feed that energy. Pick your spots to remind them of the vision -- where you and the team are going and how their work is getting you there -- and stay out of their way. Don’t disappear! Your attention matters. Try not to be a hovering manager but instead a coach on the sidelines -- encouraging and quietly communicating confidence in them.
When a team under stress feels deflated or angered, that’s clearly a different story. Now is the time to separate their emotions from the pressure you’re under.
Here’s what I mean. You probably know in your gut what’s wrong. Think about it. Are people feeling disrespected? Are they tired from running hot for too long? Maybe they don’t understand why their work matters. Or, they do understand but they don’t think their work matters to their leader or the company. Maybe there’s a change in direction that’s really unexpected and very different from the path they thought they were on. The point is to check in with yourself. Looking at things from their perspective, you probably know something about why people are feeling the way they do.
Here are some other questions to answer:
Acknowledging and communicating comes next. Your team needs to hear you acknowledge the problems before they’ll see you as credible and get onboard. It’s time to share your vision for the future and why it matters in terms of what’s at stake. It’s also time for you to declare a personal commitment that you will stick to. And, ask for their help.
This approach may seem dramatic but it’s effective no matter how emotionally charged the situation is. The idea is to tune into what’s happening with yourself and your team, decide how you want it to be and lead.
Sure, you could lay down the hammer instead. You could threaten them (directly or indirectly) to focus. You’re the leader, you can do what you want. But be careful, threatening is not a long-term play. Sooner or later your reputation shows up long before you enter the room. What you do in these moments becomes the content of what people say about you when you’re not there. And, that has consequences for who will follow you, who you attract and, eventually, impacts your contribution to the world.
Creating purpose and meaning in your current job.
Written by Roxanne Brown
Imagine this: You love your work. You love being absorbed by it. You feel your life’s purpose reflected in the work you do and you can see the impact it’s having. Your family and friends are proud of you and the work you do. They can see why it’s important, why it drives you. Even on those most hair-raising days leaving you completely rung out you still feel deep satisfaction because you know your energy and time is worth the effort.
Nirvana, right? Maybe this is you today. Or, maybe this was you at some point in the past or something you wish for. The question is, how can you cultivate meaningful work?
Turns out even if you don’t have a deep, meaningful connection to your work today, there are still ways to bring meaning into your world of work without leaving your current position.
Like what? Well, you could…
Of course, this assumes you’re in touch with what makes work meaningful to you. If you’d like to explore that a bit….
How can you create meaningful work for your people?
I was surprised by a recent conversation I had with an administrative assistant at a non-profit organization. As part of a meeting series with each member of their 20-person staff, I noticed every person I met with was enthusiastic and highly engaged in where the organization was headed. By the time I met with the administrative assistant (which was after several meetings), I was struck by the difference in energy level and how little he had to share in contrast to the rest of the team. After a while he revealed that he did not feel his work was particularly meaningful (I’m paraphrasing). Exploring this, he said he understood the importance of his role to the organization and he enjoyed working with everyone on the staff. That wasn’t the problem. It seemed to him, though, that all the members of the staff were doing work they were really passionate about. By comparison, his work seemed far less significant. He spoke as if he were resigned to this, as if that’s all he could reasonably expect in a role like his compared with the role others played. He actually seemed demoralized! Clearly, I was not expecting this.
With his permission, I shared my notes with the leaders of the organization. I just knew the leaders would love to find a way to involve him in projects he would find meaningful. They just didn’t know how much it mattered to him! And, that’s exactly what they did.
So, what can you do for your people?
And, to prepare for those conversations, here are a couple things to do in advance and have with you:
Imagine how inspiring this would be for your team to hear you say! People want to feel like they’re part of something important, like they’re making a contribution that’s real. They also want to work for an authentic leader so be careful not to manufacture meaning where it doesn’t really exist. You’ll know in your gut if you’re forcing it.
Doing this for your people may help you discover more about what makes work meaningful for you and what areas to expand. With just a little focus, you can make purpose and meaning become more and more integrated into the culture of your team.
A useful example of change leadership.
Written by Roxanne Brown
We've all been there. You've been given a task you don't believe in, or you have to make a decision you hate making, or a combination of the two. So what do you do when you have to lead a change you don't like?
Well, the first thing to do is get your mind right. Now is the time to ask yourself what's bothering you about this change? Were you taken by surprise? Did you have completely different expectations? Do you fundamentally disagree with the decision? Is your ego getting in the way? What is it? Put some self-reflection time in to understand why you're not onboard. This self-awareness is useful for managing your mood.
Now think about your people, the people you need to lead through this, the people that are impacted by this change. How do you expect they'll react and why? How surprised are they likely to be? What will they need to understand? What support will they need? Start deciding how you will communicate the change and how you will invest in supporting your people.
Now try some visioning. How do you want this to go, ideally? For you and for your people. Imagine the ideal. Why? Because even though you don't have complete control, you do, in fact, have a significant amount of control over how the change is experienced. You control your own experience of the change, and you certainly have significant influence on how your people will experience the change.
Let me zoom in on this for 30 seconds: If you think the change will be hard then it will be. If you think your people won't like the change because people don't like change, then, as the leader, you've pretty much sealed their fate. If you expect (and decide) it's going to be bad, there is no doubt that it absolutely will be. It will meet your expectations.
If, on the other hand, you decide your experience of the change could be how you envision it ideally, then you've got a much better shot at something great. And, if you envision it ideally for your people, then they have a shot at something better too. Let's just say this: People have thanked me for how a difficult change was handled, a change that had a huge impact on their lives, and that's largely because I started by envisioning the ideal for them and then worked hard to figure out how to make that happen. You can do this. It's hard, but it's worth it.
Here are some constructive tactics:
1. Take stock of what you're most concerned about. Ask yourself, what's the worst that can happen? What would happen if you didn't make this change? What would be the impact in six months or a year? What positive actions can you take to prevent the worst from happening? What could you do to create a positive outcome? Dale Carnegie writes about this in his book "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" -- if you have the book, see chapter 4, How to Analyze and Solve Worry Problems, for a useful exercise. Another great exercise comes from TED Talk presenter Tim Ferriss: Why you should define your fears instead of your goals. Here's a tool to help you clarify your concerns.
2. Decide how your going to show up for your people everyday. Your people are tuned into you, like or not. Your behavior and words send signals all the time about what's important and how things are going. If you're worried, chances are they've picked up on that and they're worried too. My friend Mark Becker (a change expert) always says it's important to check in on your emotions when you're leading a difficult change. He suggests that, for example, on your commute or your walk from the car to your place of business ask yourself how you feel right then. Ask yourself, how do you need to show up for your people? Then make the decision to act accordingly. Remember who you are -- their leader -- and then act accordingly.
3. Start executing strategies to take care of yourself. You're under stress, you need to help yourself manage that. No kidding, don't discount this. How you feel will come across and will only bring you more stress if you ignore it. People around you will suffer because you impact the people in your world. You matter, you are important. Take care of yourself.
4. Get help from a coach, trusted advisor, or mentor to keep you going. Find someone that can be a safe place to talk though what's on your mind, to vent and get perspective. Make it a regular thing. That periodic emotional release will help you find your inner-calm and focus back on what matters most.
This is not an easy thing to do, but you can do this. Once you decide to lead this change well, my bet is you'll already be halfway there.
My inspiration: Back in September 2016 I led a 3-day change management course for a group of HR professionals working for non-profit organizations in foreign countries. Given my heavy corporate experience, needless to say, it was a departure from my usual audience. It was awesome because it was a chance to translate my change management methodology into something that could be universally applied. At one point one of the participants asked what she should do if she didn't believe in the change. Such a fundamental, universal question, and I hadn't covered it! It was good to be reminded that this is a struggle every leader faces sooner or later, and often more than once. It's just part of the deal. The thoughts in this blog are what what I shared in the course.
Putting a protective structure around the members of your team to help them fail and grow.
Written by Ed Cook.
Leaders, who help to develop the skills and capabilities of their teammates, are giving a gift that returns again and again. Giving it, however, is not always so easy. These brave leaders are attempting a process that can be both difficult to do and even damaging if not carefully done. What makes this such a difficult undertaking is that the process of learning new capabilities does not always happen through instruction alone. Often, it happens best through experience. In order to truly grow, people need to try these new capabilities which means they will fail, certainly in the early attempts. Those brave enough to try may suffer loss of credibility should they fail. They may lose confidence as they see the negative impact of their mistakes on others. Decline, not growth, is possible here.
To conceptualize their role leaders can use The Leadership Bubble. The Leadership Bubble is the concept of a leader placing a protective structure around each member of the team, but it’s tricky. Too tight and the teammate doesn’t learn. Too loose and the teammate may get hurt. I first came in contact with the idea of The Leadership Bubble when I was a pilot in the US Navy and had become a flight instructor. A veteran and grizzled instructor, who had taught me when I was a student, passed on his words of wisdom: Students need to fail. This was not at all obvious to me. Shouldn’t our role as instructors be to help the students succeed. Who teaches someone so that they fail? With decreasing patience, he explained to me that we were not teaching, we were instructing and there was a difference. Teaching was about passing on knowledge. Instructing was about guiding experience. Our job was to guide the experience of the student pilots so that they could fail, safely. Failing leads to learning. Defining the boundaries of success and failure provides the students the motivation to continue on. They fail but can learn and see the way to improve. It keeps the process available and possible not mysterious and unattainable. His specific advice was to never let the student fly beyond my capabilities to make a correction and recover the aircraft. Nowhere is this more difficult than landing on the aircraft carrier.
Months later I found myself flying at night with a student pilot, out for her first night landings aboard an aircraft carrier. Through the hundreds of landing I’ve had aboard an aircraft carrier, I never got comfortable with night landings. You are literally flying into black abyss looking at just a handful of lights as your guide for where the ship is. The process pushes against every instinct that exists in the human body for self-preservation. Doing it while a rookie pilot is at the controls is an act of supreme control of raw animal fear. The plane I flew has the pilots sitting side by side like an airliner. The two pilots share the power levers in the center of the console but have their own set of all other controls. As was my habit, I had my hands at the bottom of the power levers and formed my fingers into a ring so that the student pilot could move the power levers easily but would hit my hands if too much or too little power was applied. It was my version of The Leadership Bubble: a physical bubble around the power levers.
As we moved in behind the ship, the student was clearly struggling. The control and power movements were getting bigger not smaller. Near the very back end of the ship in the literal last second before we would “land” on the aircraft carrier, the plane began to rise on the glideslope. The student made the wrong correction and then pulled the power all the way back. This is deadly. The aircraft passed through the mass of air that is disturbed by the superstructure of the aircraft carrier which makes the aircraft settle. That couple with the reduced power had us plummeting into the back of the ship. With screams over the radio to add power coming from the ship, I closed my fingers around the power levers into a death grip and pushed them to full power. We pulled away from the aircraft carrier, and minutes later I flew the plane back around and landed on the ship.
My buddies congratulated me on saving the aircraft. They scolded the student for such a mistake. It seemed over until my old flight instructor came up to me and dropped this bombshell: “Were you holding the controls the entire time?” I told him that of course I was, he was the one who had taught me to do exactly that. With much disappointment, he explained that I was doing it wrong. The idea was to be near the controls not on the controls. I had made the circle too tight. The student pilot couldn’t make small mistakes, so she couldn’t learn. When it came down to a really dangerous situation, she was not prepared, and it was my fault. Fortunately, the student recovered and went on to be a successful aviator.
This incident solidified for me the power of The Leadership Bubble. I had made the bubble too tight. The student pilot couldn’t make small mistakes and learn. I was trying to protect the student but instead I had made her less capable. On the other end, a leader can make The Leadership Bubble too big and thereby not keep their teammate protected enough. It is a delicate and individual balance, but when done right can create significant growth for each team member.
Reflections on a 20+ year career in change work.
Written by Roxanne Brown.
When I first met you my life at work was in turmoil. At the office, people standing feet away from each other wouldn’t acknowledge each other. It was like they didn’t know how so they just filtered each other out. People decided to keep to their friends now that our company had bought a long-standing competitor. There were new people. Worse than that, the new people were the enemy. They were our competition that for years we battled against for clients, awards, big business. We knew them by name and by sight and now they were in our office. They were supposed to be one of us now. How strange it all felt. The new people acted like they were in a foreign land, looking stunned, trying to adjust. It was beyond awkward. I retreated to my office to escape the pressure of those interactions. The rooms and hallways were dense with emotion pressing everything downward. Lots of slumped shoulders, lots of gazes to the floor, just a weight. A merger announced one day and with that all of the joy was sucked right out of our team.
Then I met you. It was in a class I signed up for at school. Change Leadership, it was called. That’s where I discovered you. I had no idea what I was in for. Every week a little more was revealed about you. Each lecture, each reading. The implications of you were incredible to me. It meant people didn’t need to be the victims of inevitable changes that come to the workplace. It meant they could be guided through it, even choose how they wanted to experience it. THEY could be given control of their experience. YOU could do that for them. Incredible.
And, that wasn’t all of it. It was better for the company they worked for too! People adjusted faster, were less distracted, were more productive and resilient. Fascinating! When I finally grasped all that you had to offer I remember thinking I had discovered something precious. Something everyone should know about. Why wasn’t everyone doing this, I thought? That was you, CM.
Bit by bit what was happening at work became clearer. Now I could be compassionate and say what needed to be said. Put words to what was happening. I could try to help us make sense of the transition. You helped me try. I was hooked.
Seventeen years later my commitment to you is impenetrable. Yes, there was a time in the early days when I wondered if this was really a career. Many said I was crazy to pursue you. You won’t last, they said. They said you were too this or not enough that. But I studied you, I persisted, I experimented. I insisted on doing the work and I insisted you were real. I was right.
Some have quipped that it’s too bad the word “Management” is in your name. It’s true, it’s not a dynamic word and does have some negative associations but so does “Change”, frankly. I’ve heard all of the criticisms and, oddly, I feel immune to them now. I’ve earned my point of view. I know the feeling when you’re present and when you’re not present. That’s all the resolve I need.
I could have pursued many other professions. Before you I certainly did. But once you came into my life I knew you were for me. I think like you. I feel empathy through you. I’ve served countless people through difficult situations with dignity and respect because of you. I’ve also helped people discover and create the culture they longed for because of you.
You have brought my life joy and meaning in ways I hadn’t expected. To see the sudden light in people when they realize all you have to offer and that they can do it too. It’s incredibly satisfying. Over and over I’ve witnessed it. It doesn’t get old.
And, your beauty is always evolving. It’s a delight to discover how you adapt to new scenarios and ways of work. Learning is the essence of you.
Not a clear career path? Maybe so. But you have given me a career I feel deeply aligned to and that makes me brave every day, in service to others and for something much bigger than me. Clear or not, for that you are absolutely worth it.
With love and gratitude,
My Inspiration: Last week TJ Rinoski gave a presentation to a group at Gather about the launch of his new magazine Skinny Dipper that's a long-time collaboration / labor-of-love project, years in the making. It's a work of art. Each issue is created with the intention that it be kept, even displayed. During his presentation he talked about it being a love letter to the variety of media art they love. Hmmm..., I thought (made a note). The way he talks about it is inspiring and endearing. Clearly he and his friends care a lot about this thing. The big launch was yesterday. We ordered our copy today.
How to influence workplace politics for better outcomes.
Written by Roxanne Brown.
There’s tension in the room. An executive asks a question and the guest speaker answers. But then the speaker clears his throat. Or maybe he glanced to the side. Whatever he did, it might have been a sign of weakness, definitely a sign to dig deeper. The rest jumped in with the inevitable attack. This was now the typical behavior, like a bad habit they had all formed together. They were looking for someone to blame or some elusive answer to solve everything that had gone wrong over the last six months.
The woman in charge of this weekly executive check-in intervened. She took over the conversation so they would focus on her and not the guest. Partially to protect the speaker, but mostly to get their focus on track. “Aren’t we here to make decisions?,” she thought. To her, the purpose of the conversation seemed pretty straightforward. But it never was. There was always danger and it was palpable. Unnamed and unclaimed but real.
People remember moments like this because they are emotionally charged with fear. These moments stand out. Everyone is in hyper-self-protection mode. It’s a time to be clever. Careful. The possibility of changing the behavior of a group like this seems impossible. But there are other options. Just blow up the whole group and start over, that’s one solution. But that’s often just a fantasy. You’re stuck with who you’re stuck with. You could just live with it and wait for the pain to end one day. You could abandon the whole situation by finding another place to go for yourself. There are options.
Can anything be done to move this group to a more constructive place?
What if you reimagined the whole thing? What if.....you suspended reality for a moment and imagined how you’d like this group to be? How would it feel in those meetings ideally?
Having trouble with that thought? Understandable. Once you have a fear-charged memory conjured up it’s hard to replace it with something ideal.
Try this...take a breath and give yourself a moment to clear out that fear. Now...think about the best experience you’ve ever had leading a meeting or leading a team or working with a group of senior executives. What was that like? Okay, time to write some things down -- write down all of the adjectives that come to mind. Just keep writing and writing until you run out of adjectives.
Look at what you’ve written then ask yourself, what made it that way? What was happening? Write down what was happening. Again, keep writing and writing.
Then ask yourself, what did you accomplish because of all that was happening? Write down what you accomplished.
Now, sit back and look at it all. You have this great experience inside you. You know what’s possible because you’ve experienced it. It’s your story, not someone else’s.
Now that you're looking at what you’ve written and remember what's possible, ask yourself, what one or two things would I like to apply to the emotionally charged, fearful situation? What would it be like if that could happen? Picture it in your mind.
With that in mind, write down what success would look like for the current situation by completing this sentence, “I’ll know we’re truly working together toward successful outcomes when…” Write down as many thoughts come to mind for completing the sentence. This is what success looks like for you!
Now comes the hard part: The question to ask next is, what must be true to make this happen? This is when it’s time to be really honest with yourself. What do you need to change to make this happen? How do you need to be different? How do you need to think differently about all of the players? And, who’s help is critical to make this vision happen?
There are people to enlist to help you change what’s happening. More often than not you’ll find others want that change too. If you are the leader of the group, you have a legitimate position to work from and others will be happy for your willingness to lead the group to a different place. If you aren’t the leader you can still have an influence. Just your presence, how you think about all of the players and holding your vision in your mind can have a positive effect.
There’s much more to do, but this is a solid start. A shift in your thinking alone will cause a shift in others. Things might start happening that surprise you. Your best bet is to be open to surprises. Look for them. Step in when they happen. Hold that vision while being open. Involve others. Pay attention to the negative but filter out what’s not constructive.
We know that work is what you make of it. Of course, it’s hard to remember that when you’re in the middle of the day, week, year packed with work responsibilities. The question is, now that you remember what’s possible, what are you going to do?
My Inspiration: Back in 2012 Daryl Conner interviewed lecturer and writer Peter Meyer. It was a fascinating discussion about the difference between using fear or attraction to bring about change. He also shared a practical, step-by-step approach to using attraction. I've been applying some form of his approach ever since. Thanks, Peter! Thanks, Daryl!
You can use this summary to help you with situations like these.