Improving meetings isn’t just about inviting the right people and being prepared. You also need to employ empathy, an emotional intelligence competency that can help you better manage discussions.
Empathy allows you to read people: Who is supporting whom? Who is coasting? Where is the resistance?
Carefully reading people will also help you understand the conflicts in the group so that you can manage the power dynamics. You may think these sorts of politics are unimportant, but power matters — and it plays out in meetings. Learning to read how the flow of power is moving and shifting can help you lead the group.
It’s your job to make sure people leave your meeting feeling good about what happened, their contributions, and you as the leader.
Most people do their best work when they know their manager trusts them. If they worry that you think they’re lazy, incapable of directing their behavior, or lack integrity, they’re unlikely to take feedback or coaching from you.
So go out of your way to gain your employees’ trust by demonstrating positive assumptions about them.
Give challenging assignments, with the clear and confident belief that your expectations will be met.
And don’t hide information, or assume people will mishandle it. Instead, promote transparency.
Try adding a “through the grapevine” agenda item to meetings as a fun, informal way for people to share company information they’ve heard, so you can either confirm or debunk the rumor. When managers demonstrate positive assumptions, employees respond in kind.
Some people equate good listening with sitting silently, nodding, making eye contact, and, when the speaker is done, paraphrasing what you heard.
But these things are only part of what makes someone feel that you heard them.
The best listeners go deeper by trying to understand the substance of what the other person is saying. Doing this requires that you ask questions to clarify your understanding and push the other person to better articulate their position, examine any assumptions they’re making, and see the issues in new light. You should also try to empathize with and validate any emotions the speaker is conveying.
Once you’ve made sure the person feels supported, you can offer some thoughts and ideas about the topic that could be useful to the other person.
Just be careful not to high-jack the conversation so that you or your agenda becomes the subject of the discussion.
It turns out that intuition is not really intuition at all.
Just like the invisible, inseparable quarks that underlie the protons and neutrons in the nucleus, rules of thumb (ROTs) are the fundamental, sometimes invisible, particles of CEO decision-making. They are the building blocks that underlie what CEOs describe as “intuition” or “gut feel.”
Ask an experienced CEO how she/he made a major decision and their typical response is “intuition” or “gut feel.” Yes, analysis also plays a role, but intuition was found to be a major or determining factor in 85% of thirty-six major CEO decisions that we studied.
Some were good decisions, some were not, but regardless, intuition seemed to always rule the roost.
But what is it?
After persistent and deft questioning, CEO’s will identify, sometimes to their surprise, judgmental heuristics — ROTs — that go a long way towards explaining their major decisions. It is these building blocks that we must examine in order to discriminate between “good” and “bad” intuition.
After CEOs identify a few ROTs, a torrent of supplementary ones often follows. Some CEOs argued, however, that they use values for guidance, not ROTs. But values alone don’t provide clear guidelines. Only when they are operationalized into ROTs do they serve as decision-making tools.
At Odebrecht S.A., a large ($22B) Brazilian conglomerate, the CEO and founder’s grandson, Marcelo Odebrecht and the rest of the company’s leadership are dedicated to upholding the company’s core values: trust and partnership. But when it came down to actual decision-making it became clear, after considerable probing, that the company operated with four basic ROTs derived from these overarching values and passed down from generation to generation of Odebrechts:
1. Decentralize operations
2. Decentralize strategy
3. Promote only from within
4. Partner with your customer
These ROTs guided CEO Marcelo Odebrecht when, despite serious misgivings, he decided to support his Brazil Director’s call to take over the construction of the Pan American Games facilities in Rio de Janeiro from another contractor. Marcelo did not interfere in his Director’s decision because of his commitment to his ROTs (#1 and #2) and because the director was a long-term employee who had “drank the Odebrecht Kool Aid” (ROT #3).
Business leaders ignore their intuition at their own peril. When Gustavo Cisneros, the CEO of the Cisneros Group, was considering a 50/50 partnership with AOL to establish AOL Latin America, his board, his family and his management team were united in endorsing the deal.
On the other hand, Cisneros had a gnawing feeling that Latin Americans were different from U.S. customers, and they would not pay a subscription fee to use the internet. But because everyone, including AOL’s intense and charismatic leaders — Steve Case and Bob Pitman — saw it as a great deal, Gustavo sublimated his intuition. Five years later, after a bankruptcy filing and nearly a billion dollars in accumulated losses, Gustavo regrets not having paid more attention to his “intuition.” Now Gustavo has a new ROT: “Never make a deal if it doesn’t feel right with your intuition.”
Bill Amelio, former President and CEO of Lenovo, learned the same lesson, even though he’d deliberately produced his own set of personalized rules of thumb, after taking on the challenge of merging Legend Computer and the IBM PC division into what we now know as Lenovo.
Here’s Bill’s list (amended following the merger, as described below):
1. Identify and concentrate on the critical few decisions.
2. A call is better than no call.
3. Give your decisions a short leash. Quickly pull back in case of mistake.
4. Trust your intuition.
1. Communicate the critical few decisions effectively and repeatedly.
2. Don’t tolerate jerks.
3. Build a team of people you can trust and rely on.
4. Trust your intuition.
1. Get feedback early and often and act on this feedback.
2. Earn the trust and confidence of others.
3. Demonstrate vulnerability to gain credibility.
4. Play to your strengths.
5. Trust your intuition.
To build a new management team he could rely on (ROT — People #3), Amelio demoted a man who had contributed much to the development of Legend, someone the Chinese refer to as a “made man.” Bill went through the right process and got his Chinese Chairman to sign off. But he ignored his intuition and the body language of the Chairman when he responded cryptically that as CEO he had “full authority to decide.”
The result was a major debacle in which Bill was faulted for ignoring the values of Chinese culture and caused a significant loss of trust. Amelio consequently added “Trust your intuition” (ROT — Self #5) to his rules.
Discovering, and continuously updating, rules of thumb is an important task for every CEO. It is a fundamental element of self awareness. Yes, values and beliefs are important, but it is really ROTs that operationalize and bring down to earth what really guides CEO decision-making. These rules can then be identified, challenged and adapted as circumstances change.
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I recall the very first conversation I had with Patrick Mataix when I asked him how he entered the world of executive search. I quickly realized I had encountered ‘a meeting of minds’ moment based on an ethical dimension seldom encountered in my traditional world. Here was someone with whom I passionately wished to work.
It was soon established that CEO Worldwide was born out of Patrick’s frustration with the headhunters and consultants he encountered as co-founder and COO of Vistaprint (NASDAQ: CMPR).
Exasperation at their inadequate answers and relaxed approach to deadlines – as much as their lacklustre candidates.
He went on to say that it seemed the recruiters were almost mocking all the time and energy he was investing in developing the business internationally: raising funds, opening subsidiaries, acquiring and restructuring businesses.
He was permanently looking urgently for managers in France, UK, Germany, the US…
All of his problems boiled down to quickly finding the right person, in the right culture, with the right profile, at a reasonable cost; to either help him do things faster and more efficiently, or run a portion of other fast growing business.
While meeting C-level executives, he could clearly see that he was not the only one wasting time and money in endless, costly and infuriating processes, that were highly inadequate for the pace of their international development.
IT WAS TIME FOR A CHANGE
He founded CEO Worldwide in 2001, because as an entrepreneur, he recognized that cross-border executive recruiters could not keep putting themselves before clients and commanding ridiculous fees for the privilege. It was not sustainable then and certainly isn’t now as ‘digital’ enables productivity gains – particularly in terms of financial savings and time-line – to directly flow to the client effectively handing back control. The client is front and center of the CEO Worldwide service culture.
Since then CEO Worldwide have placed 1000s of candidates who have truly revitalized businesses in multiple sectors across the world.
Our purpose continues to be to offer the C-suite a way of hiring ‘…the best certified executive talent on the planet.‘ at speed, without any up-front financial commitment and for a flat fee unrelated to the agreed remuneration and specific for each region. We do this by constantly adding pre-selected top performers meeting or exceeding our clients’ requirements. For those that are INVITED to the CEO Worldwide community we seek – free of charge – to accord them unrivaled opportunity to showcase their skills both by written word and via a dedicated YouTube platform.
While agreeing that the vision is an essential platform for transformation, communicating the vision is even more important.
“You cannot sell change, or anything else,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter, “without genuine conviction, because there are so many sources of resistance to overcome: ‘We’ve never done it before; we tried it before and it didn’t work.’ ‘Things are OK now, so why should we change?’ Especially when you are pursuing a true innovation as opposed to responding to a crisis, you’ve got to make a compelling case.
Leaders talk about communicating a vision as an instrument of change, but I prefer the notion of communicating an aspiration. It’s not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more. It reminds us that the future does not just descend like a stage set; we construct the future from our own history, desires, and decisions.”
Communication styles vary, and there may be differences in conventions around time, giving feedback, and disagreeing publicly. To overcome these differences, set clear norms and stick to them. Start by taking into account what will work best for your team as a whole.
Be aware that there may be team members who find it harder to meet certain expectations because of their cultural backgrounds. For example, if you have established that team members must arrive at meetings exactly on time (Western-style punctuality), you’ll need to reinforce that norm consistently across the group and remind non-Westerners why being on time matters. Of course, sometimes things change and adjustment is required, but keeping a consistent, clear structure for work styles and expectations is a critical way to create a common-ground team culture.