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Being Prepared, But Saying The Least — Meetings

boy covering mouth

Recently I attended a meeting with our church’s leadership, and as I drove home from it, two thoughts kept bothering me: I wasn’t prepared enough for the meeting, and I said too much in it.

The following week, I set up an appointment with an advisor for input on my meeting contribution. (The role of the advisor is captured well by Michael Hyatt in his post “Who Are Your ‘Trusted Advisors’?”.)

This advisor had heard me present in several meeting environments (including the most recent one), and had watched me interact with church staff and members. He recommended several points of improvement for me, but the one that was most impactful was this:

Be the most prepared guy (gal) at the meeting, with a plan to say the least.

We’ve all been in meetings with people who weren’t prepared to speak authoritatively on a subject, but did it anyway. They spouted content without substance. And even if spouting is done well, waxing eloquently doesn’t equate meaningful content.

We’ve also been in meetings with well-prepared people, who because they were so prepared, subsequently chose to take over a meeting with incessant talk. Again, filibustering doesn’t equate to quality content provider.

What’s the best mix of preparation and spoken contribution in a meeting?

Specifically, what’s the best plan of action when you’re a participant in the meeting, but not facilitating it?

On Being Prepared… a few reminders, for prior to the meeting

  • Have I gathered all my facts?
  • What questions can I anticipate on this agenda topic?
  • Have I searched my paper files and e-mail for all correspondence which may be relative to the meeting topic?
  • Have I studied enough that I have key information and metrics in my head?

On Saying Little… a few reminders, for during the meeting

  • Only speak to a topic after you’ve answered this question to yourself:

Am I speaking to bring value to the conversation, or for some other less worthy reason?

  • Resist the urge to control the output or concerns of others.
  • Listen reflectively.
  • Don’t formulate rebuttal comments while others are speaking.

I’ve by no means got all this down. After most meetings I lead or participate in, I feel there’s ways I can improve.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people said about this about us after they left a meeting…

“They don’t talk a lot, but when they do, they bring a lot of value”?

 

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Leadership Blind Spot Automation

It beeps. It lights up. It creates awareness that your casual over-the-shoulder can’t achieve. Vehicles have come a long way in blind spot technology.

It use to require a head turn of some seventy-five degrees. Then manufactures made the mini-mirrors to be added to your side view mirror. And now, automated blind spot checkers.

I doubt most of us have kept progressing in our leadership blind spot technology as vehicle manufactures have for their cars. In fact, as we’ve gone further in our leadership, our blind spots may have been ignored and probably even gotten larger.

Because we’re the “leader”, the person riding shotgun with us may feel less freedom to warn us of our blind spots. And because we’re the “boss”, our ego may prohibit us from asking said shotgun rider for their input.

We feel like we have so much experience, we can just sense our blind spots. “Surely I’m self-aware enough, right?” Yep, the more longevity and leadership success means we may have just broadened the width of our blind spots.

For these reasons, we need more sophisticated blind spot checking.

Blind Spot Automation

Awareness

It begins with admitting you have a problem. “Hi, my name is Brian, and I know I have leadership blind spots.” If you struggle to say that, well, you’ve definitely got blind spots. They could be significant blind spots like character or competency. Usually though, they’re areas that didn’t use to be a problem, but over time without intentionality, the blind spot has become a reality. Are you aware you have blind spots? Can your self-awareness skills identify them?

Ask

No matter how self-aware you may be, you’ll still need a second opinion. And that means you’ll have to ask others. And when you do, ask with assumption that these blind spots do in fact exist. Your inquiry shouldn’t be, “Do I have any blind spots?” But should be more like, “I realize I get into my own world, habits, and passionate about my work, and I know that means I have some leadership blind spots. What are a couple areas you’ve seen where I’m most likely to be susceptible?”

Just assuming they exist and framing in a way that gives the person permission to answer candidly without feeling like they’re attacking you will go a long way in getting useful feedback.

Assessments

While I do think personality assessments should always be considered 10% accurate, nor do I see their results as something that should hold a person hostage to behaviors that are “hard wired in.” I do feel like the results can be a tool. A tool that’s printed that can tell you in black and white how your actions and personality may be perceived by others.

In the most recent personality assessment I took, its results reminded me of some areas that are square in my blind spot. But there were some results that were new to me. For example, when note mentioned, “[Brian] may rely too much on past experience.” I’d never considered this before, but because I became aware of this possibility, I was able to investigate. If you haven’t used a personality assessment, I encourage you to find a free or affordable one and see if it will create awareness for you.

Accountability

Who, without you asking for it, can make you aware of your leadership blind spots? Who have you given permission to be a “back seat driver” and let you know when you’re merging into an area that could cause a wreck?

You’re a leader. You get things done. You care about others. But a leader who cares about those they lead will make sure at least one of the things you get done is identifying and eliminating your leadership blind spots.

 

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Infraction: Ask the Humanizing Question

When they send a terse email. When they pick a (metaphorical) fight in a meeting. When they’re emotionally unengaged in an important conversation. When they make a rash decision. It’s these times when we need to ask the humanizing question.

In a previous post titled, “When a leader should confront” I suggested Ken Sande’s tip on determining whether a person needed to be confronted for some sort of poor behavior. His idea of the “humanizing question” was in that post, but I wanted to go a little further with the content.

So what’s the humanizing question? Ken Sande, in his book The Peace Maker says it this way:

“The humanizing question looks at an infraction and uses not only a situational view of the person who committed infraction, but also a dispositional view. When we feel we are wronged, we often ask, ‘What’s the matter with that person?’ instead of, ‘Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do that?’”

“Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do that?”

Whether for a staff member, church member, friend or family member, ask the humanizing question before you take your judgments or your response too far.

The humanizing question is similar to giving the benefit of the doubt. It’s a grace giving question. But when there’s an infraction this question can create enough pause to help you uncover if there’s something larger that’s going on, perhaps something with their infraction is just a symptom.

Recently, a minister from another state contacted me. He and his church’s leadership were determining whether an employee who resigned quickly, and in poor form, should be “sought after.” And not only to be sought after to be restored relationally, but restored to the position from which she resigned.

My counsel was limited, but the humanizing question came to mind…why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person resign that way? Had this employee acted like this before? Had they shown evidence of rash behavior before?

So What’s the Humanizing Question Going to do?

The purpose of the humanizing question is to help you understand if there is a cause/effect relationship with their behavior. And that information can inform your response to their behavior.

Now, that said, extenuating circumstances in one’s life does not mean fair game on poor behavior. But, grace should abound with extenuating circumstances.

What Happens After You Get Answers?

If there’s a pattern of these infractions, well, deal with it. But when the infraction doesn’t “seem like them,” or in other words, is an anomaly in their behavior, then at the least, let the infraction go. And the most, help them understand how their behavior was wrong and is being perceived.

Your discernment will allow a choice between rushing in without regard to answers for the humanizing question and letting them off the hook altogether.

If it demands a conversation, then at the appropriate time, connect with the person. Show concern for them. But also show concern for the project or person affected by their “infraction.” You could lead with something like, “In that meeting today you didn’t seem to be yourself, and I want to understand if there’s something going on…”

Rarely, if ever, do we know all the stressors in one’s life. So when possible, slow down and ask the humanizing question before trying to solve what could be a small symptom of a much larger stressor.

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