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Stuck with stinker staff meetings? Maybe it's your leader

Water Cooler Wisdom

Leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation.

- William Arthur Wood

Water Cooler Quotes Archive

Meetings are expensive. Even if you don't have to rent a venue, planning, coordinating and hosting a meeting entail a significant investment of time and money.

During the meeting, attendees are paid for their time, but they aren't working on their assigned projects. If the meeting requires communications equipment, such as laptops, projectors or phone lines, the costs increase. And if refreshments are offered, the meeting gets even more expensive.

Since meetings require valuable resources, we should all work to make them as productive as possible. One way to do this is to ensure they are planned and run by effective meeting leaders.

You may think an appropriate meeting leader is either the boss, or the person most knowledgeable about the meeting's topic. For example, if a meeting is going to address how to increase sales in a specific region, you might assume it would be best led by the region's manager or its top sales agent. The meeting is about sales and about a region, so it should be led by those who sell within or manage that region, right?

Wrong. Running meetings requires a different skill set than the expertise required of top sellers, or even bosses or managers. Your top sales agent may have succeeded by relentlessly chasing prospects.

While tenacity is a good characteristic for a sales closer, it's probably not the best trait for a meeting leader. A meeting leader needs to encourage all attendees to participate without making them feel bullied or pressured.

Your sales leader's strong suit may not be tenacity. He may have attained success by keeping his mouth shut and his ears open, listening for prime opportunities or nodding his head patiently as prospects run through a long list of objections to his products or service offerings.

Again, these qualities are helpful in closing sales, but they don't contribute to being an effective meeting leader. A meeting needs to be led by someone who quiets others when necessary, guides the conversation and controls the room.

You might think the best person to run a meeting is an executive or department manager. Maybe, but maybe not. It depends on the person and the situation. For example, some managers earn the respect of their teams by sitting back and letting the teams run themselves.

While this hands-off approach probably works well for motivated teams, it's not the way to run productive meetings. Meetings are best run by people who can and want to take charge.

Another important quality in a meeting leader is objectivity. It's important to pick someone who isn't emotionally invested in the meeting's topic and won't be directly affected by its outcome. This impartiality helps keep a meeting focused and on schedule. A leader who is not closely related to the issues and events addressed at the meeting can more easily encourage full participation from all attendees.

Also, uncomfortable undercurrents can be avoided if the leader is not the direct supervisor of participants who will be strongly affected by what transpires. Of course, the importance of this factor will vary depending on company culture, what's at stake at the meeting and how emotionally charged it is.

Meetings are a great way to save time and boost productivity. Think of all the phone calls, memos, e-mails and voice mails that can be eliminated when all the parties whose ideas and insights are needed are in one room.

Effective meeting leaders keep events on track. With the right leader, you can transform your meetings from stinkers into stunners.

Article published in issue number 060902

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