Are You Just Showing Up?

Posted Thursday, October 11, 2012

Allen Slade

You probably had at least one meeting today. Why were you in that meeting? Woody Allen said “90% of life is just showing up.” He’s wrong. Leaders go to meetings to make a difference.

A meeting is like a journey:

You can focus on your next step, looking to avoid a misstep. This short range focus may help you avoid gaffes, but you won’t make much of a difference.

You can think about the next mile – how will we reach our goal for today? With a medium range focus, you can help make today’s meeting a success.

Or you can look to the horizon, and think about where you want to be in the future. With a long range focus, you are looking ahead to future meetings, future decisions and future leadership opportunities. You treat each meeting as an opportunity to grow your influence.

The best leaders do not choose between short, medium and long range focus in a meeting – they do all three at once. They craft a great comment while avoiding gaffes, they make today’s meeting a success and they develop their leadership, all at the same time.

Let’s focus on the long range impact of your meeting participation. As a leader, you should be mindful of your leadership presence in meetings. Do you appear timid? If so, you may not be seen as a leader. Do you talk too much? You may undermine your standing as an empowering leader or an effective team player. Let me suggest three ways you can be mindful of your meeting behavior.

1. If you want to manage your leadership presence in meetings, try noticing how much airtime you take up in meetings.

Airtime is the percent of time you are the focus of the team’s attention (talking, writing on the board, etc.). For a five person team with equal attention, each person should be the focus of attention about a fifth of the time – 20% airtime. A person dominating the conversation has 50% or more airtime.

 It is rare that each person gets exactly the same airtime in a meeting. You may have more airtime because your expertise or passion fits the topic.

 The point is not to set a specific percentage target. Just notice your airtime.

“Noticing airtime” is not a smart goal. It is not specific, measurable, actionable or time-bound. I am a big fan of smart goals as a powerful source of change, but they are not the only way to develop your leadership. Sometimes just noticing something – being mindful – is all that is needed to trigger a major behavioral change.

2. If the airtime goal doesn’t lead to the change you want, try the rule of three: “I will make 3 valuable contributions in every meeting.” For this to work, you need to do your homework. Study the agenda, do some research, collect some reports and prepare to make a difference.

3. For maximum impact, create a SMART goal. Decide on a plan for your participation in each meeting that is specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. For example, “In next Monday’s meeting, I will comment on the product quality topic on the agenda. In advance, I will analyze some data and prepare a customer story. I will practice using both the data and the story with my coach before the meeting. I will use the data, the story or both in the meeting.”

See each meeting as a leadership development opportunity. Stay focused to make a difference. Avoid missteps, push the decision ahead and grow your leadership all at the same time.

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