Your meetings are the manifest expression of your culture. Whoa, slow down. Really take this in. This is important. Your. Meetings. Are. The. Manifest. Expression. Of. Your. Culture.
Every time you call a meeting, you know, “gather around people,” around a table, a phone or a video call, you put your values, norms, priorities, and leadership on display. A meeting isn’t just a reflection of your culture, it IS your culture. So, as a conscious leader, how can you raise the vibration, improve the connections, and accelerate the positive results of a meeting? To tackle this question let’s first agree on a few points and then discuss how to bring the Blueprint to Conscious Leadership to uplevel your meetings.
Let’s agree that meetings are the manifest expression of your culture – time, relationships, priorities.
Next, let’s agree that 90% of leaders’ time is in meetings – preparing, attending, reviewing.
Let’s also agree that there aren’t any conscious meetings, just conscious people.
Finally, let’s agree that while most meetings stink, they CAN deliver the value we want.
And yes, that gut sense you have that meetings aren’t working, it’s backed by research – research because we hold a lot of meetings. In the USA alone, how many meetings do you think we hold every day? Between 36 and 56 million meetings. Take that in for moment… And the estimated cost of lost productivity from ineffective meetings is anywhere from $70-283 billion each year.
That gut sense you have that meetings aren’t working, it’s backed by research.
So can conscious leadership improve our meeting experience? Of course! Lorna Davis, former CEO of DanoneWave and Chief Manifesto Catalyst of Danone, credited the remarkable success of her team to five years of perfecting their meetings. Too simple, you say? Remember, meetings are the manifest expression of your culture. By tweaking and optimizing meetings, Ms. Davis also refined and optimized her business.
As a Conscious Leader you can achieve better and faster decisions, increase trust, deepen engagement and strengthen collaboration by making your meetings shine.
Since we’ve already agreed that there aren’t conscious meetings, only conscious leaders, we can talk about how to apply conscious leadership to meetings beyond the great practice of starting meetings with three minutes of silence and presence. What follows are nine practices that apply my Blueprint for Conscious Leadership before, during, and after each meeting – the practices of Wisdom, Love, and Courage.
WISDOM IS MORE THAN JUST SMARTS
Wisdom is going Below the surface and beyond the obvious. When you’re going for insight (going deep) and perspective (going wide) you’re applying your wisdom. Don’t be that leader that shows up to meetings unprepared. Think deeply and widely so you can guide and awaken your people to have meaningful discussions.
WISDOM BEFORE: Pause, plan, and prepare. In other words, show up ready for the meeting and be conscious of what, why, and how you’re going to lead this precious time with people that you care about. Answer these four questions before meetings:
Purpose: why are we getting together? How does this tie to our bigger picture?
“Our meeting today serves our focus on creating a culture of fun.”
Objectives: what, specifically, are we here to achieve? State each objective as a question.
“How do we shorten wait times?” “What’s the best way to onboard Sally?”
WISDOM DURING: Listen with deep curiosity. I bet you’ve heard of Beginner Mind. You can practice that while your colleagues are speaking. Listen as though you’re hearing them for the first time. Don’t fall into , “I’ve heard this a thousand times,” or, “I know exactly what Sally thinks,” or, “this is boring.” Challenge yourself to be curious about what’s being said, what’s being felt, and what isn’t being said.
WISDOM AFTER: Reflect with a light touch. On a whiteboard, flipchart, or PowerPoint draw ye olde Ben Franklin table. Christina Volgyesi, Marketing Director at Dr. Bronner’s, at the end of a meeting, divides a flipchart page into two columns and titles the left column “plus” and the right column “delta.” Under “plus” she captures what worked today. On “delta” side she captures what we can change to make the next meeting even better.
As you do this, let each person contribute, capture their comments verbatim, and don’t argue with anyone. And, of course, take these notes and apply them to the very next meeting.
Wisdom can only be manifesting action, not in theory.
LOVE IS MORE THAN A FEELING
Love is wanting to do well for others. Puppy alert! When we brought home our nine-week old Lab/Hound mix Nola, I fell immediately in love. I’m happy to blow off work and get on the floor to play with her and make her happy; and I’ve been buying her all kinds of chew-sticks. Because I love this little furball, I give her time and attention and make her happy. Yes, that’s love. Love at work is no different – it’s a desire to do good for others by giving them your time and attention and helping them do well.
LOVE BEFORE: Serve with humility. Visualize each person that’s coming to the meeting and reflect on how you can contribute to their happiness (even though I’m a firm believer that we’re each responsible for our happiness). See if you can figure out their needs and how you can serve them in the meeting. What’s their style? What pressures are they dealing with? What are their goals and demands? Basically, answer for yourself, “How can this meeting benefit this person”
LOVE DURING: Act with compassion. Nothing will block the flow of love in a meeting like embarrassing someone or triggering their insecurity. Google’s Project Aristotle definitively concluded that Psychological Safety is the most significant factor for team effectiveness. Your leadership presence has a direct impact on the feeling of psychological safety in the meeting. Compassion and cruelty cannot coexist. So be compassionate.
LOVE AFTER: Lavish your people with gratitude. The best way to show gratitude is one-to-one and making it specific, timely, personal, and sincere. Zach Adelman, Founder and CEO of Navitas Organics, starts his Executive Group meetings with brief exchanges of gratitude. In just a few minutes the team strengthens their field of love, and their decision making has improved. Verbal, in-person gratitude out ranks monetary bonus as the most desired form of thanks at work.
Love is the connective energy and behavior that brings safety and wellbeing into the meeting.
COURAGE ISN’T FOOLHARDY
Courage is walking toward what you’d rather run away from. Courage isn’t, and never will be, the absence of fear or anxiety. Au contraire, courage is only possible when you’re scared and anxious. As a Conscious Leader you have a unique opportunity to face the hard stuff in meetings – topics, issues, relationships, behaviors – and engage this hard stuff wither a little or a lot.
COURAGE BEFORE: Name the hard stuff. Micha Mikalian, Founder and CEO of Intently, courageously takes stock of difficult – scary, uncertain, uncomfortable – topics and decides how to add them to the meeting agenda. He’s aware not to just blurt something out in a moment of frustration. Rather, he decides in advance how to name the issue on the agenda and address it in the meeting
COURAGE DURING: Explore differences. We’ve heard so much about how truly strong teams are diverse; that includes diversity of opinion and perspective. Activate your courage to seek out different voices in the meeting by inviting, even insisting, on hearing dissenting positions and opinions. Yup, it’s scary to hear something very different, and it’s scary to invite possible dissent and debate, but exploring the edges of perspective is more than energizing and engaging, it’s remarkably productive.
COURAGE AFTER: Be purposeful. There’s demanding and disciplined work that happens after the meetings, the work of meticulous follow through. Implement the decisions and actions that you have committed to in the meeting. Distribute the courage by identifying a “Champion” for each commitment, and agree on a timeline for completion. Then stick with these agreements and help people achieve their commitments.
Courage has nothing to do with not having fear and anxiety in a meeting. You’re courageous when you acknowledge and allow anxiety to guide you past the edge of your comfort zone.
WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE TO DO?
It takes vision, practice, and collaboration to change your meetings culture, even if you’re the leader of the meetings. I invite you to start by setting an example. Do a bit of research with your team about gaps in your meetings and where you need to pay attention, then pick a couple of the Nine Practices and begin to apply them.