I’m going to make a sweeping statement based on nothing but experience and belief;
Too many leaders spend far too much time talking.
I’m not just extolling the virtues of listening and asking questions, I’m also talking about the ability to be able to hold silence and say nothing. Let me ask you, how many times have you been in a meeting where the most senior person has spent the largest amount of time speaking? And if you’re a leader, how many times have you come out of a meeting feeling like all you’ve done is tell people what to do?
What if you said absolutely nothing. Zip. Nada. Rien.
When we talk about empowerment and building sustainable, resilient teams it strikes me one of the first steps is to hold back the amount we needlessly contribute and focus more on adding value where it is asked for and needed.
The next time you’re in that situation, ask yourself:
- Has someone specifically asked for my view?
- Do I have information that I know will help people move forward?
- Do I have experience that I know no-one else in the room has?
- Would something dangerous/illegal/costly happen if I didn’t speak?
- Am I offering something that I don’t mind being ignored?
If the answer isn’t yes to one of these, you might want to check yourself and listen to the conversation before deciding to step in.
I have a confession to make, I’ve become a little obsessed by meetings. I’m fascinated by the way in which we, in organisations, fill significant proportions of our time talking about the things that need to be done.
Which feels kind of weird.
I saw some data last week that showed that the higher up you go in an organisation, the higher proportion of your time is spent in meetings. Now assuming that people have succeeded in work because of a level of competence in doing “something”, to take them away from that to instead talk about “stuff” seems slightly counter intuitive.
And even accepting that the coming together of people within organisations is a valuable part of the working agenda (which I absolutely believe to be true). How often are meetings run by the most skilled most adept facilitator versus how often are they run by the most senior person?
What happens is that we are stuck in a historical model of business, where those on high would call together their underlings to convey, check, question or hold to account. And whilst so many aspects of our business life have changed, this one part still remains firmly planted in the past.
The much talked productivity gap that exists within UK business surely can’t be helped by the amount of unproductive time spent in unnecessary or badly run or defined meetings. Freeing people up to do rather than talk, to create rather than discuss.
When our lives become about meetings, we have to ask ourselves whether we are adding value, or simply taking resources away from the main purpose of our organisation.