Most meetings are a waste of time.
That’s because most managers don’t know how to run meetings like a CEO.
An important part of building great relationships, and leading talented teams, is to run meetings well. I’ve witnessed a wide range in meeting management skill—seeing ordinary leaders run meetings vs. learning how the most successful leaders do it. I’ve had the privilege of participating in meetings with over 20 self-made billionaire entrepreneurs and over 20 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. And my ghSMART colleagues are really talented; I’ve learned a lot from them as well. So that is where my advice is coming from.
Do you want to know 3 ways to run meetings like a CEO?
ALWAYS REQUEST AN AGENDA.
I remember being invited to a business lunch early in my career, by a mutual acquaintance.
“I wonder what he wants to talk with me about,” I wondered naively.
A middle-aged man with a shiny pocket square in his blazer and a mouth full of smiling white teeth sat down across from me. After 3 minutes of required small talk, he revealed his agenda.
He said, “I work in risk.” “Oh,” I gulped. “Yes,” he continued, now summoning an earnest facial expression, “Does your firm, and family, have sufficient insurance coverage?” The rest of that meeting was so boring that I wanted to choke myself, as the insurance salesperson failed to close me on a new policy. I learned my lesson the hard way; that meeting was a waste of time for him and for me.
Now I only accept meeting invitations if there is an agenda. The first benefit of getting an agenda is you can decline a meeting if the topic or purpose is not of interest. Save time.
The second benefit of having an agenda is you can prepare, which makes the meeting more valuable for all parties. I remember when a client asked for a meeting to “just catch up.” I care about our clients’ time. So I wrote back, “So that I can prepare for our meeting, and make sure it’s valuable to you, what are some questions that you would like to discuss?” I had initially thought that the client wanted to go over the results of a recent project. But the questions that he sent me which he wanted to discuss had nothing to do with the project, and had everything to do with how he was managing his board. So having this agenda in advance of the meeting allowed me to look up the biographies of who was on his board, to anticipate what issues he might be facing, and to come into the meeting ready to dig into a discussion about how our client could manage his board more effectively.
The third benefit of having an agenda is that it makes you look competent! I frequently print off a brief 3-question agenda, on my ghSMART letterhead, and give it to the other people at the beginning of a meeting. “It sounds like these are the most important 3 questions on your mind,” I say. This gesture of respect and professionalism is often met with a glance of “Well, you have your ducks in a row!” from the other people in the meeting. And it helps the other people stay on task during the meeting, so the conversation doesn’t become unfocused.
ASK QUESTIONS, DON’T TALK MUCH.
This piece of advice is counter-intuitive. Aren’t CEOs supposed to tell their followers what to do in meetings? No. The great CEOs don’t!
The best CEOs I’ve witnessed ask broad strategic questions like “I wonder what is making our UK expansion harder than we anticipated?” They ask reflective questions to clarify priorities like, “So the three things you are saying we should do are 1) set up the banking relationships, 2) get 3 conference keynotes scheduled for Q1, and 3) hire Audra Winter as GM. Yes?” The final type of questions CEOs ask in meetings are accountability-related like “Who is going to do each of those things, by when?”
- DISCUSS, DEBATE, and DECIDE.
At our firm, we call this “3D.” This simple format for problem solving makes meetings so much more useful. Once some background discussion of a topic is finished, CEOs say things like “Let’s debate what we should do about this. Who has some ideas?” Once a clear solution emerges, CEOs say, “It sounds like we are in agreement that Martin should be the one to pull together the new store-level metrics for each of our monthly meetings. Martin, are you willing to do this please?” That’s a decision. Meetings that have outcomes where people decide to do things are productive. Meetings where people “just talk” are not nearly as productive.
If you think these tactics are useful, please download our free leadership tools SMARTtools for Leaders™.