“Another Meeting”, was the title of my last week column. I received rave reviews, both verbal and written. Mostly positive. I was satisfied. But just when the state of happiness and satisfaction was beginning to settle in well, a younger colleague, called and asked for time, to meet up. Since rarely, I postpone requests of this nature, I said, “Come over, now”. The young colleague walked over and from the word go, the colleague berated me, for the contents of “Another Meeting”. During the course of the diatribe that I was facing, remarks were made like, “O’ you think, you create a friendly environment, in the Board Room”; “you believe that you get honest feedback”; “you think you give people level of comfort to challenge your views and ideas” …. and so on. And to all that interrogative harangue, I said, “yes”. The colleague said, “No, you don’t”.
The conversation of less than thirty minutes that ensued between us, hovered around certain fundamental truths about human nature. My ego, totally bruised and mauled, by someone, decades younger in age and experience. But through that candid, honest and upright expression by the colleague, I emerged enriched. The following paragraphs are a gist and condensation of that very healthy dialogue.
The major responsibility of the Chairperson is to create a safe environment for people to speak up. There should be no latent fear for anyone to express opinion and then face a post meeting reprisal. During the meeting nobody should be taking things personally nor indulge into hurling terse jibes at fellow participants. I was reminded that in a particular meeting, a colleague was asked some rudimentary question, by me and on his failure to reply, I reacted and retorted “but that’s something I knew when I was in fourth Standard, so how is it that you have forgotten?”. I said so in jest, but I realise damage had been done unto him. The comment, at least from a standpoint was not cast in any ill-will but surely the recipient and other listeners did not think so!
In the meeting, participants should be motivated to accept and take on responsibility. In doing so, the Chair does not have to think that they are preaching from the pulpit of Sunday morning mass. I was told, “be the CEO, not the preachy” (what a slang!). The Chair or the CEO must not wait for colleagues to come to them, instead, they should go out and ask them (workforce) to critique a process, a system, a project, a product, a service, etc. by virtue of this act, you (Chair) enable an environment that reinforces confidence and positivity of the work stations.
To avoid the possibility of the meeting to become one of endless discussion on the nitty-gritty of an agenda item, it is the responsibility of the Chair to offer such subjects to the ‘experts’ to do complete dissection in a smaller sub-group. In my experience, I have seen that technicalities are debated relentlessly, to the chagrin of the not-so-interested participants. In most technology related meetings, the participants are overwhelmed by the use of techy jargon, which most do not understand and I have to presume that the IT Experts, present and using this heap of technical garbage, at-least understand, its import and meaning!
It is good management practice to schedule certain meetings with the express purpose of bringing to fore, for discussion and resolution, the problems nagging, various departments and division. The CEO can tell his team, that I wish to hear everything that’s wrong with project X. This encouragement will impel the participants to open up and speak their minds, with no fear or favour. Before each group meeting, appoint on rotational basis whose job is to bring “issues and concerns”.
While engaged in meeting the CEO (Chairperson) should deepen their (colleagues) Understanding of what’s working and what’s not. Evaluate, are all units working in tandem? The production and service delivery must not be out of step. There has to be complete alignment in the various systems and processes. In fact, it is only motivational to include by expression at the meeting your (Chair) errors of judgement. It is not only embedded to invoke correction, but can serve to be inspirational too. Learning, must be encouraged and looked upon, as a two – way street; especially so in meeting, where all present have equal status to expression, of their unalloyed, undiluted and non-expedient views. The CEO must not suffer from any shame or guilt to admit his mistakes and to share his learnings, so that he appears human too; and to build trust in the team. Many CEO’s (Chairperson) fall prey to the environment that creates a halo of impregnability, around their persona …. Some actually start to behave like demi-gods; the team of Mr. Know-all’s.
A pragmatic CEO/Chairman will appear to his team as transparent, with a to-the point approach. No meandering in the maze and haze of uncertainty of thought process.
In business review meetings, the actuals are compared critically, against the budgeted numbers. It is akin to asking someone to do something and then challenging or critiquing the output/results. It is not an easy endeavor. The Chair has to handle in an equitable and graceful manner the over-performers, the achievers and the under-performers. A general lack of apathy towards the non-achievers will render the meeting to a path of creating “the yard of the silent’. While pulling the non-performers, the Chair does not have to be insulting, either by word, gesticulation or terse comments. That’s certainly not a reflection of ‘inspirational leadership’. Again, those present, are actually representing divisions that are manned with great number of individuals; hence it is also critically important that business updates on performance are not restricted to the few present, but be cascaded down the various layers of the organization.
This colleague also remarked to me, “that you, may be without deliberate design and intent, appear to be more knowledgeable, to the participants. This measurement of the participants could also preclude them from openly expressing their views”. This was another eye-opener. It follows that CEO’s / Chairperson must be careful not to portray themselves as infallible. Do not attempt to impress whether deliberate or not, of how brilliant you are than other mortals sitting in that conference room, where you roar and bask, under the full light of attention – in short, no CEO / Chairperson must fool himself / herself. It is imperative, that all constituents of a meeting, including the CEO, must jettison their pins, stripes, badges of honour, title, position, etc. before entering the meeting venue.
The Chairperson, must be seen as being “one of them”. While “appearing to be approachable”, whilst not necessarily being always approachable; he must at least appear to be human, with all its attending faults, flaws and error. No leader becomes a pygmy in the acknowledgement of own limitations. Such leader never shrinks to take a back-seat, when more competent colleagues, are around to guide a matter or an initiative.
Carol Diveck’s theory that is applicable on CEO’s or any chairperson dwells upon adopting a growth mind-set against a fixed mind-set - fixed mind-set revolves on being content with existing skills and laments over current areas of development as failures to be disappointed with. A fixed mind hinges upon areas of development as a personal failure and shortcoming and it further internalises it with a level of dis-belief. Whereas the growth mind-set looks at areas of improvement as amazing opportunities to learn and grow as constant evolution and it believes in the immense potential of human capabilities to continuously grow.
Towards this ‘daring colleague’s comments, initially there was internal revulsion and I wanted to borrow from the Museum of history, for actual use, Napoleon’s, Guillotine nay that is soft, would have preferred instead to use Henry VIII’s, who effectively had used it to be done with Catherine of Aragon, Anna Boleyn and his many consorts ……. but light ultimately did shine at the end of the tunnel….. I am enriched. Will I change? Let’s see.
The writer is a freelance columnist