By Paul Axtell | Article Featured on HBR.org
Most people see meetings as a burden, a waste of time, or a general annoyance. But meetings aren’t going away. The good news is that leaders have the opportunity to significantly improve how meetings are run at your company, which could boost your influence and your career.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, found that leadership behavior is a crucial factor for meeting outcomes and attendees’ overall satisfaction. These findings are not a huge surprise, I suppose, to anyone who has had to go to countless meetings — and yet leaders frequently forget the important role they themselves play. When having to lead a meeting or group gathering is considered a hassle, it sets a negative tone for everyone attending.
Rather than dreading your meetings, get better at leading them. Here are six reasons why doing so is a worthwhile investment of your time:
- You’ll set yourself apart. The ability to manage conversations so that they are productive, inclusive, and focused on getting work done is an organizational skill that transcends expertise. Being really good at a core discipline (say, marketing, business development, or social media) is important, but being an expert only gets you so far. If you can add to your repertoire of skills the ability to facilitate conversations, you’ll add more value to your organization, and be recognized for doing so.
- You’ll gain stature. Your colleagues will respect your ability to make their time in meetings productive — even more so if you can manage the conversational processes with very little attention on you or your views. You are not doing this to get noticed, but it never hurts to be known for having a critical skill set.
- You’ll create productive relationships. The entire process of determining what should be on the agenda and interacting with colleagues about the best way to have a successful meeting gives you insight into what matters to people. Relationships are built on a series of conversations where people can express themselves fully and be heard. If you can do this, you’ll build a network that you can depend on outside of the meeting as well.
- You’ll enhance your powers of observation and learn to stay out of the conversation. Managing a meeting requires careful attention to the dynamics in a room — for example, whether someone needs to be brought into the conversation or an action item needs to be assigned or the discussion has gone off track. Facilitating a meeting also requires learning to withhold your own ideas and questions and focusing on the input and thoughts of others. Many of us need practice at interrupting less, listening more deeply, and resisting the urge to focus a conversation on our own views or experiences. These are important leaderships skills in and out of meetings.
- You’ll become valuable beyond your own group. If you become known in the organization as someone who can manage conversations effectively, you’ll likely be asked to help with other meetings. You may not be interested in becoming a professional facilitator, but even leading one or two meetings a month for other parts of the organization will build your network and knowledge of other functions.
- You’ll contribute to your boss’s success and respect. Offering to design and lead the next meeting for your manager is a gift in several ways. Many managers simply don’t have the time to determine what needs to be on the agenda and how best to get the broad participation required for alignment. With you facilitating the discussion, the boss can be completely attentive without the distraction of keeping the conversation on track. And being able to focus intently allows the manager to pick up on the nuances people express, verbally and nonverbally, and to listen for the organizational perspective or any background the group needs.
Beyond improving your own skills and advancing your career, getting better at running meetings will be dropping a pebble in the pond of ineffective meetings — it will ripple outward. When you begin to deliver meetings that people look forward to and benefit from, others will realize your organization is not doomed to have wasteful, ineffective meetings, and may be inspired to follow your example.
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