Today’s audio is 15:55 minutes long.
President Obama has nicer digs than you, but that doesn’t mean he’s able to conduct a better meeting. Maybe he can, maybe he can’t. Power and authority are important components to effective meetings, but they’re not the only components.
Conducting an effective meeting is a craft that can be learned. Every business leader needs this skill. Some need it more than others because some businesses have a high volume meeting culture. Others, not so much.
As a longtime student of effective communication I’ve read and studied lots of material on public speaking, private connections and a variety of other forms of interpersonal communication – especially as it relates to the workplace. Authors like Warren Bennis focus on leadership and the burden and responsibilities of leadership on performance. Part of that responsibility is effective communication. Almost every leadership communication expert agrees that presence is crucial. They may not all agree on how to define the term though.
Some say that “presence” is the ability to command attention, but when we’re talking about leadership I think that definition is too shallow. A deeper and improved definition is the ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others. That definition is supplied by authors Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, co-founders of The Ariel Group.
This isn’t charisma, that special something that too many think a person is born with – or not. No, this is a learned, methodical ability to behave in a way that will foster effective leadership in communications. It’s not enough to be the boss. Power won’t give you instant presence. It won’t give you the ability to foster greater creativity, collaboration or problem solving.
Presence comes from within. That means it’s YOUR job. It begins with YOU.
Unfortunately for many leaders that’s where it stops. The leader is so focused on himself that he can’t see anybody else. In some cases, the others in the room are merely audience members, passive observers of the leader’s performance. This is where business meetings go wrong.
Empathy is required. If you have low empathy, then you’re going to struggle to be a great leader. You’ll also find it nearly impossible to conduct effective meetings. Actually, you’ll think you’re holding great meetings. You just won’t really see things as your staffers do. You’ll suffer extreme delusions thinking the meetings are grander than they really are.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Some people are given to that more easily than others. And there’s a balance that’s required, too. Some leaders lean more toward sympathy and find it hard to hold staffers accountable. They’re often working as hard as staffers to find excuses – reasons why performance metrics aren’t being met. Clearly that doesn’t make for effective leadership or effective communications.
So where do you begin?
Truth. That’s what authenticity is, truth. You have to find the truth. Without it you won’t be able to connect.
I’m not talking about absolute truth. I’m talking about truth as your people see it. For instance, by now you and I have likely had a few conversations about things that your people have observed, or we’ve talked about some of their feelings about things. You may not agree with their observations or feelings, but that’s why I mean these aren’t absolute truths. However, they’re how these people feel about things so in that sense, they are very real and true. Disagreeing with them is futile. Great leaders don’t try to argue with them, but instead they incorporate empathy into their communication so they can understand the “truth” of how their staffers feel.
Today’s session isn’t a comprehensive lesson in communication. People spend years and thousands of dollars trying to improve their communication skills. We can dive more deeply into it as you’d like, but I simply want to offer you a few ideas that can help anybody improve business communications.
1. You have to be present.
Many communications problems stem from people failing to pay attention. They’re distracted. It sounds ridiculous, but this is a primary reason why leaders lack presence. Because mentally and emotionally they’re NOT present.
Do you engage people by looking them in the eye when you first meet them?
Do you focus on what they’re saying and how they’re saying it?
Do you really listen to them?
Are you paying close attention to them, trying to really understand not just what they’re saying, but what they mean?
What about their body language? Are you watching it carefully for non-verbal cues that can help you better relate to them?
These are all part of what it means to really be present. You can begin to improve it today, but it’s going to require hard work. And lots of practice.
Learn to be IN THE MOMENT when you’re talking or meeting with staffers. Don’t be thinking about the past meeting, or the next meeting. Don’t be thinking about anything else or anybody else.
If you’re not good at this it’ll be incredibly difficult at first. It’ll become easier over time if you’ll practice it every single time! Prepare in advance of the meeting. Clear your mind and enter the meeting with a conscious attention to be there for the members of your team.
2. You have to actively listen.
Work hard to understand the feelings of your staffers. Avoid your automatic defensive posture. Don’t argue. Don’t defend. Just listen and try to understand.
Realize that you’re approaching things from your viewpoint. As a leader, you have information your staffers may not have – and may not need to have! If we look out of a plane at 1000 feet things look very differently than if we’re looking out at 5000 feet. That’s how it is inside your organization. Your staffers have a different view than you. Let them have their perspective and try to understand it.
This is where you’ll make the connection…or fail to. They need to know you’re listening and that you understand where they’re coming from. It doesn’t mean you agree with everything they say, or feel, but it means you give them a safe environment to say it, or feel it.
The sure fire way to stifle creativity and effective problem-solving is to make your staffers know they can’t have an independent thought or idea. They’ll clam up in no time if you continue to grow defensive and you shut them down every time they try to express themselves.
Be the best listener in the room. Show others how hard you’re working to be a great listener. YOU are the leader so lead. Show your people how great listeners can impact a staff meeting.
3. Be congruent.
Few things drive staffers crazier than a leader who says one thing and does something differently. We all look for patterns and congruency in our lives. The young lady who is seriously courted by a young man is frustrated after years of dating if the young man seems non-committal whenever talk turns to marriage. His actions indicate that he’s serious, but his language says something different. It’s confusing to the young lady and it’ll lead to conflict because she must find a way to make sense of it all. Your staffers can suffer similar conflict if they sense one thing from you, but later they sense something different.
Don’t confuse your team. Express yourself truthfully by being authentic to deliver a congruent message. This does NOT mean you tell your staffers every thought that enters your head. Or, that you tell them everything you know. These people deserve your protection and support. Some things are not meant for them to know. That doesn’t mean you’re not being truthful. It means you’re being discrete and respectful. It means you’re doing your job as a leader to give them what they need to excel. That means sometimes you’ll have to hold your tongue and feel alone.
4. Know yourself.
Your values and convictions are well-known by your team. Don’t try to be something or somebody you’re not. Accept who you are and what you are.
Yes, you can still strive to improve (and you should). But you can’t enter a staff meeting ramped up and high energy unless that’s who you are. Your team will suspect something weird is happening if you try to act like somebody else.
I’ve seen leaders who tried to enter staff meetings like Zig Ziglar when they’ve lived so far being more like Mr. Rogers. It’s an epic failure for any leader to avoid being true to themselves because they think it’ll make them more effective as a leader. No, it makes them a laughing stock. Be comfortable with who you are and work hard to be the best version of YOU possible.
These are just four simple steps you can take to start being a more effective communicator today. None of them are easy, but all of them are simple. Take them seriously. Put in the work. The rewards will be enormous as your staffers learn to open up, say what’s on their mind and contribute more to solving the problems they’re tasked to solve.
The more you can engage the brain power inside a staff meeting, the higher performance your team will experience. And that’s what we’re after – RESULTS.