What if you as a senior leader could transform those painfully boring staff meetings into opportunities for real connection? Stop enduring. Start changing them now.
You know the meetings I’m talking about. The ones filled with useless or trivial dialogues in which nothing moves forward (or things move forward very, very, very slowly). The ones where everyone just sits there and endures the conversation. The meetings you wish you could avoid altogether.
As a senior executive, you cannot always just delete these meetings from your calendar. At the same time, you also don’t want to feel as if you have to talk superficialities just to make some sort of “real” connection with colleagues. Being authentic has nothing to do with “devolving” your level of conversation just to fit in. Inauthenticity just wastes time and drains your energy. And it doesn’t create the kind of connection you want.
Being bored is an indicator, an important sign that it is time for you to evolve the conversation upwards.
Every senior executive leader has a responsibility to eliminate this waste—for themselves and for their organization. Whether or not you’re the senior person in the room, you always have an opportunity to transform a boring, wasteful meeting into an engaging, productive dialogue. To do so, you will want to develop an ability to recognize these moments as they are happening. You will also need some skill/competency with entering a conversation and moving it beyond the mundane so that it becomes useful for everyone.
There are 3 things you can do to evolve a conversation upward. Step one starts with suspending your judgment, relaxing, and opening up to being fully present in the moment.
1. Be Present, Be Real
What do you normally do when you get bored in a meeting? Start replying to emails? Withdraw and stop participating? Respond politely to direct questions and let your mind wander to what you’re going to do afterward? Do you hold back from letting yourself be fully present?
We run two risks when we stop being present and stop being real with our colleagues: our working relationships start to erode and may eventually fall apart. We also may have to listen to the same old conversations repeatedly…forever. Neither option creates a real connection.
Real connection prevents boredom.
If you’re going to evolve a conversation upwards, you have to be fully present and you have to be real. That may involve some discomfort and risk-taking on your part, instead of politely listening to someone repeat the reasons why they have their opinion… for the hundredth time.
The next time you experience boredom, do an intervention on yourself. Remind yourself that you will not play the game that way anymore. Bring yourself back to the present moment. Stop daydreaming. Come back into the meeting. This is leadership: modeling the kind of presence that you want people to bring to the conversation.
Be honest with yourself about what’s happening. If things are going nowhere, come up with a question or an observation to help everyone see that. Remind people of what the original purpose of the meeting was. Make a request to get to a new agreement with everyone around the table. Re-design the relationships or the way of working together. Re-align on your roles. Re-negotiate how you are communicating in the meeting.
I was coaching a senior leadership team at a retreat as they were building a strategy for the upcoming year. These were Vice Presidents and Directors. Their conversation focused on what their bosses, (who were not in the room), were not doing. They also expressed frustration about their own direct reports not performing at a higher level. They were blaming their bosses for the performance gap, citing the fact that their bosses were not providing a clear enough direction for the company. The conversation was a downer.
Then one executive changed everyone’s mood by asking: “What are we waiting for? What do we see as the direction for the company? What would be possible if we provided what’s missing to our teams? And what would be possible if we recommended this vision to our bosses?”
After a long silence, the conversation shifted. Gradually, everyone could see the opportunity they had to model the kind of proactive approach they wanted to see from their direct reports. This is how aliveness and energy show up when we stop settling for the flatness and sameness of our communications and truly connect with each other.
2. Reconnect with Purpose
Having the courage to interrupt your patterned conversations in this way gives people an opening to pause and reconnect with the company's vision and mission. It gives everyone another chance to look at the bigger purpose behind what you, as leaders, are trying to do together.
Use that breath of fresh air to be real with others—and invite them to be real with you. Now is the time to look at how things may have changed over time and whether you need to modify your commitments to each other. Now is also the time to re-commit to your commitments to each other if they still work as is.
Commitment resides in the hearts of your people—not in the piece of paper that declares your company vision.
Revisiting your purpose may seem like an unnecessary exercise. But it can be invaluable for a team.
I worked with a senior executive leadership team a couple of years ago to help them craft a clear vision of where they were trying to take their company. A mere 18 months later, the team began to experience some disagreements and breakdowns. When we looked at what was going on, we realized that fifty percent of the team members had changed and that meant only half of the group had a clear sense of what the original vision was. Even though these executives had been working in the same company along the same general lines, the new team members didn’t have the same level of commitment to the vision as the individuals who had created it. So we did some work together to re-create the vision with the new players, bearing in mind the intentions of the original team. The result was an updated vision that all team members could commit to. The very act of building this revised vision together strengthened the team.
Once you have established an authentic connection with everyone and reconnected with the group’s purpose, you can begin to move the original conversation you were having in the meeting upward. Start with asking questions.
For example, say you have pulled the people you are meeting with back so that they are present again to the company’s original vision to grow revenues by a certain percentage in a specific way in the next year. Ask them how what you are talking about now in this meeting relates to this vision. Ask how it helps you reach that specific growth goal.
If you find yourself getting bored again, pay attention to whether you are sitting on observation or comment that you don’t have the courage or skill to share.
By not speaking, you’re turning off your connection to the purpose and the people you are committed to. You’re killing your own sense of aliveness.
Continuing to not speak up keeps us stuck with our boredom. Instead, we can use our boredom as an indicator that the meeting could be missing something. Turn your observation or comment into a provocative question, and invite everyone to engage with it.
It takes confidence to risk being provocative in a group. And it takes some skill to provoke people without making them feel like they’re “wrong”. Your choice of words and how they are delivered are as important as the point you are trying to make.
Not rocking the boat puts you to sleep. But when you fall asleep, so does your company.
When we hold ourselves back in meetings, even when we think it is for political reasons, we perpetuate the status quo and effectively stifle innovation. So if you really don’t want to waste any more time, use your power to catalyze change. Pay attention to whether your meetings have become mind-numbing exercises in sharing data and opinions. Start asking questions that move your team—and even your bosses—out of their comfort zone. Reward those who ask the tough questions that take your conversations up a level.
There’s too much great work we could be doing together to settle for “bored”. Let’s not waste any more time.