Leading isn’t about talking more (or louder)

Which type of meeting leader are you?

Dan and Tom are both SVPs in the marketing group of a large technology firm. They each have a team of about 30 people and meet with their teams regularly.  But that’s where the similarity ends.

Dan’s meetings are painful experiences for Dan and his team members. As he does every week, Dan stands at the head of the conference room and takes his team through the meeting agenda. He shares with them updates about the business, notes budget and deadline changes. After speaking for about 30 minutes he invites discussion. He really wants his group to share their challenges, collaborate on solutions and ask questions, but inevitably there’s silence. “No questions….So everything’s good?” “No one has anything to share?” More silence accompanied by some uncomfortable body language as people look down at their notepads and squirm in their chairs. “Then that’s it…let’s get back to work,” he says as he ends the meeting.

Tom approaches his meetings differently. He distributes responsibility for different parts of the three-part meeting agenda to individuals on his team.  He makes it clear that he’s looking for a quick update followed by one or two thought-provoking and conversation-starting questions posed to the group. Tom waits for others to speak and then, when appropriate, he contributes (vs. dominates) the conversation. He may ask another probing question, or synthesize what he’s heard, or connect the dots of the various comments. He asks “one-finger” questions such as, “What’s one problem with the way we’ve been tackling this problem?” Occasionally, he reframes a doom and gloom comment that threatens to derail the meeting, by asking a constructive follow-up question. “Sounds like ABC is a serious concern. Is there a way that ABC may help us do XYZ?”  Then Tom gets quiet again and listens to the conversation.

Dan asserts his position by talking more than anyone else, learns nothing new and his team members are informed but not engaged.  Tom uses his leadership role to draw out the best of the people on his team, by listening, probing and challenging.

Two different leadership styles. Dan takes very seriously his role as a leader keeping his people informed — certainly important. Tom sees his role as shaping information through collaboration to boost insight and action.

Leading isn’t about talking more (or louder) than everyone else. Have you tried listening, synthesizing, connecting the dots, asking a one-finger question or reframing?

If you’re struggling in your leadership role and would like help becoming a more inspiring and effective leader like Tom, let me know: http://www.theloebgroup.com.

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