Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Four Ways to Lead in Meetings When You’re Not the Meeting Leader

By Jo Miller

It’s 2:00 p.m. and there has been a full day of intensive training for emerging leaders; my class participants are feeling the effects of a few too many carbs consumed during lunch. They are starting to look a bit lethargic.

I ask them “How many of you spend a lot of time in meetings?”

As the majority of the group raises their hands, a few roll their eyes, and one even groans out loud. I can almost hear a “whoooosh” as the last spark of energy is sucked out of the room. I conclude that these dynamic, high-potential women just love all the time they spend sitting in meetings.

Do you waste a lot of time in meetings? Think carefully before you answer, because it’s kind of a trick question. If you view meetings as a necessary evil to be suffered through, you might just be neglecting to take advantage of the ideal setting to showcase your leadership skills.

“Meetings are your greatest opportunity to be visible and show your organization what you bring to the table,” said Luann Pendy when I interviewed her for our webinar on Leading Meetings. Pendy is Vice President of Global Quality with Medtronic where she oversees quality operations, charged with ensuring that medical devices for patients worldwide are of the highest quality and reliability. “Meetings are how we get work done,” she continued. “There are very few jobs where you get it done yourself. Meetings are a fact of business. Achieving business goals quickly requires that we use meeting time efficiently.”

Pendy counsels emerging leaders to become competent at leading meetings. But it also pays to be skilled at participating in meetings when you’re not the person in charge. “I spend most of my time participating in meetings rather than leading meetings,” she explained. “I make it my objective to be a good meeting participant because then leaders want me to come to their meetings to help them. It allows us to achieve our objectives that much faster.”

How important is it to excel at being a good meeting participant? “Extremely important,” says Pendy. She believes that if you’re not being effective in meetings, you’re missing opportunities to add value to your company by solving business problems.

Here are four of Luann Pendy’s tips for how to be a leader in meetings when you’re not the meeting leader.

1. Be prepared
Prepare ahead of time. Study the agenda and know what your role is for the meeting. Pendy recommends considering, “Why have you been invited to the meeting? What is expected of you? How does the leader want you to participate? What is the purpose of the meeting?”
Make sure to deliver and go beyond those expectations. “It’s very important to make sure that you fulfill the role that’s expected of you,” she added.

2. Speak up
Several years ago when she was preparing for a promotion, Pendy received feedback that she was perceived as “hard to read” and as a result, people found it hard to work with her. Her management engaged an executive coach to facilitate a 360 feedback assessment which Pendy found invaluable.  “The feedback that I got from the group was: ‘You are very quiet in meetings.’ I wondered what the impact of that was,” she recalled. “So we asked the question in the 360: ‘When you see that Luann is quiet, what do you think of Luann and her leadership skills?’”

The feedback was eye-opening for Pendy. Co-workers felt she was not interested in what was going on in the meeting and that she appeared to not be engaged. “I’d go the meetings and be very courteous and respectful. I was listening to what everyone was saying, processing it, and learning,” she said. Others viewed her as not memorable, and as having no edge. “I asked the coach what I could do to change course.” Pendy adds that she would not be where she is today had she not taken action.

“So I changed,” she recounted. “I received immediate feedback once I started speaking up in meetings. Employees said ‘Thanks for supporting me.’ My peers said, ‘Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your ideas.’ And the management said, ‘Thanks for leading.’ The good news is I got the promotion. I encourage everyone to make sure your voice is heard.”

3. Be aware of meeting etiquette
“Find out what is acceptable in terms of meeting etiquette at your company,” advised Pendy. If you’re working against your company’s culture and meeting etiquette you’ll find it difficult to succeed. For example, you’ll need to know whether questions are allowed during presentations or whether you should you wait until the end. Find out how many questions and comments are considered too much. In some corporate cultures, questions are better received outside of the meeting.

Pendy suggested finding a role model who navigates meetings well. “I would encourage you to find someone within your organization whom you feel is very savvy with corporate etiquette and who is successful at leading and participating in meetings. Observe them to see how their behavior contributes to their success,” she offered. “You might even meet with the person to say, ‘You seem to be extremely effective in meetings. Tell me some of your common and uncommon tips.’ You’ll learn a lot about your organization’s culture and etiquette.”

4. Be present
“Be present and participate,” she added. “Don’t wait to be invited. If you’re included in the meeting, it’s expected that you’re there to contribute.”

An important part of being present is to sit at the table. “Oftentimes, I see women come into a room where there’s a big, long conference table and they try to find the chair in the corner away from the table,” said Pendy. “That doesn’t come across as being positive, confident, engaged, and enthused. The way to get a seat at the table is to show up on time or early so there’s an open seat.”

According to Pendy, your posture is important, too. “Put your elbows on the table, something your mother taught you never ever to do at the dinner table,” she recommended.  “When you’re in a business meeting, if you’re leaning forward and you’re putting your elbows on the table, it tells the group you’re engaged, interested, and have something to contribute.”

“We talk about corporate America not having enough women in the leadership ranks. We can ask executives in corporate America to bring more women forward, but there is an equal responsibility for all of us to bring ourselves forward. The way to do that is to use your time in meetings to show your effectiveness, your intelligence, and your leadership skills.”


To learn more about leading and participating in meetings, watch the webinar “Leading Meetings” with guest speaker Luann Pendy.

Members, log in now to view the webinar recording.
Not a member yet? Join now for immediate access to the webinar.

Emerging Leader Spotlight: Debbie Hetzel

“It is easy to get swept up in ‘corporate drama’ but in the end it’s your job performance that will be noticed.”
Name: Debbie Hetzel 
Current title: Manager, Customer Service
Company:  Potash Corp 

Favorite quote: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

What is the most important thing you have learned that has been critical to your career success?
I have always tried to stay focused on the work.  It is easy to get swept up in ‘corporate drama’ but in the end it’s your job performance that will be noticed.  I also learned to leave my ego at the door. 

What key steps did you take to get to the role you are in today?
I learned all that I could about customer service at PotashCorp.  I was eager to learn new processes or pieces of business. Our company started strictly as a potash company;  through the years, we purchased phosphate and nitrogen companies. I have made sure to learn and understand the dynamics of each new business.   

I have always recognized and understood who 
the key people are who can help me get my job done.

What tools or resources have you used that have been crucial to your success?
We have fantastic sales, marketing, transportation/distribution, and credit professionals in our company. I have always recognized and understood who the key people are who can help me get my job done. I feel I am always willing to analyze our processes and by using today’s technology, implement steps to improve the way we do our  business. 

What is the next step you plan to take in your career to develop your leadership skills?
Our company is very involved in updating our computer system. This is a huge undertaking which will involve various groups in the company. I asked to be a member of this team. Being a part of this new project will definitely help me develop my skills as I will be teaching others the new system.   

 I have a huge passion for the job and feel enthusiastic 
each day about my contribution to the company. 

What professional accomplishment or result have you achieved in the past year that you are proud of?   
I started with this company 27 years ago as a Customer Service Rep then became Team Leader, Supervisor and am thrilled to say I was recently promoted to Manager. I have a huge passion for the job and feel enthusiastic each day about my contribution to the company.

From the Article Archive: Own Your Career: Six Ways to Take Charge of Your Career Trajectory

Question: I’m interested in advancing my career. I am currently working on an individual development plan for the short and long term, but my company has limited resources available to support employees’ goals. How can I continue to grow and develop in my career? – Business Process Manager

Jo Miller Answers:
I’ve been going back over transcripts from four years of women’s leadership webinars, looking for an interesting quote from each of the over 50 women leaders who have made guest speaker appearances. 

These women leaders hold senior-level roles in the corporate, academic and non-profit sectors but share some things in common, namely the desire to share what they have learned about career and leadership development, and to support the success of women coming up in the leadership pipeline.

As I highlighted my favorite quote from each of the speakers, some patterns emerged. Their career development advice fell into ten categories. The topics are:
  • Establish supportive networks
  • Identify your ideal career niche
  • Build your brand
  • Deliver valuable business results
  • Be an agent for positive change in your organization
  • Make your accomplishments and value visible
  • Manage upward
  • Speak up
  • Take a ‘seat at the table’ and use your influence
Each of these topics is a valuable action step to include in a career advancement plan. But by far the most popular category of advice given by the speakers was self-advocacy, which was neatly summarized by the Vice President for Research at an academic institution, when she said, “Own your own career trajectory. You have to make your own opportunities.”

Take charge of your career trajectory.

I have written before about my belief that the greatest career roadblock women face is ‘The Emerging Leader’s Quandary’: when you can’t get a higher-level job without leadership experience, but you can’t get the experience without the job.

I have known many women who were smart and hardworking, but nonetheless believed that if they just worked hard enough for long enough, someone from management would eventually stop by, hand them a promotion and say, “You’re a leader now!”

If your career plan relies on waiting for this to happen, you may need to plan on waiting a long time. You can’t afford to wait for permission or an invitation to move beyond your current role or take on more responsibility.

The fastest way to break out of the Emerging Leader’s Quandary is to take charge of your own career and leadership development. Here are six tips shared by senior women leaders, for being in the driver’s seat in your career.

1. Have a career plan:
“Make a plan or someone will make one for you. A mentor told me that years ago and I have always lived my life in accordance with that. It starts with making choices with each and every opportunity you’re presented. Many of us are over-achievers, so the minute something comes up, you want to throw up your hands and say, “Sure, I’ll do it.” You want to be the good corporate citizen. But you don’t always have to do that. There’s a balance that you can strike where you say ‘yes’ to the activities that are not in conflict with those things that are important to you.”– VP of Services, insurance industry

2. Take career risks:
“I’ve taken a lot of risks with my career. I believe in “large risk, large reward”. No matter what happens, do a great job, give it your all, and people will remember you. Do you want to be in the driver’s seat or do you want to be a passenger?” – VP of Strategy, security industry

3. Choose one thing that is most important in your next role:
“Choose the one thing that is most important to you in your next role, be it location, be it a particular function, a particular level in the organization, whether you’d like direct reports next, or whatever it is – and then, be as flexible as you can about the rest.” – President, automotive industry

4. Market yourself, but stay on theme:
“You have to know what you want in your career. Market yourself. Stay on theme. Interesting is no longer a good criteria (for taking a role). Know what experience you need and what kind of jobs will give you that experience.” – VP of Finance, energy industry

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want:
“Sometimes, you have to ask for it. If you see something, don’t expect it will be there for you or it will be given to you. One very important part of my career was when I decided to go back to my professional role but not full time. I really was afraid to ask for it, but somebody said, “How will you know unless you ask?” So, I went in. I presented a proposal along with someone else who I knew wanted the same thing as I did, and we proposed a job share. If I hadn’t asked, I would probably have just either gone back full time or done something I wasn’t very comfortable with personally. So, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Be prepared. Have your plan. But ask for it.” – SVP of Staffing, banking industry

6. Put yourself forward to be developed as a leader:
“Don’t be shy or hesitant about putting yourself forward as someone who’s interested in being developed as a leader. Sometimes, there’s not a formal way to do that in your organization, so be sure to communicate that to people that you work with. Let them know that you see yourself as someone who has that potential and interest to develop in that area. Waiting for something to happen to you may well bring disappointment.” – Corporate Secretary, energy industry

If you’d like some additional support from me on how to take charge of your career trajectory you may like to consider joining my six-week group coaching program, starting July 18. Learn more here.

Would you like to hear more from the women leaders who have made guest speaker appearances in our Emerging Women Leaders Webinar Series? Members, log in now to view the webinar recording. Not a member yet? Join now for immediate access to the webinar.