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.
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