7am Tennis

Getting time with leaders within an organisation, whether they are your line manager, client, or the CEO can be difficult, and worth every drop of sweat expended in getting it.

I’m not talking about the diarised process meeting that often lacks an agenda. Don’t get me wrong, the weekly meeting was designed to be constructive, and to provide an opportunity to interact and update, but the reality is that most don’t often result in strategic deliberation or action.

I’m talking about purposeful engagement with a leader that is action oriented and delivers results.

My favourite boss and the one I learned from the most, very rarely met with me. In fact, he never had a regular meeting with anyone in the team outside of a weekly team meeting. When we did sit down to talk what I do recall is that I had his utmost 100% attention. As they say today, he was fully present. His body language was directed towards me, he looked me in the eye for the entire conversation, he listened thoughtfully and responded to my questions, doubts and yearning for advice. This led me to place intense value on each and every engagement. I never wasted a meeting, and never asked for one unless I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve. And I always came prepared.

Being prepared is central to engagement with anyone in the workplace. Not just with a CEO or client, but anyone you engage with. Why? It shows you are not wasting their time. It shows you care about their time. And it shows respect. Yes, you took the time to read their presentation before meeting with them. You read their feedback on your proposal. And you did the research on the product, proposal, or issue that is the topic of the meeting.

I recall a hectic period at one company during quite a significant corporate and market upheaval where I had the opportunity to meet with the Chairman every morning to provide an update on the media coverage overnight and in the morning papers. It was a discussion that took place at 7am every morning right after his morning tennis game. It meant I was up at 6am reading, analysing and forming a view as to any action that may need to be taken. I enjoyed these conversations because they allowed me in a small way to influence the direction the business took that day. It helped the Chairman frame how the market was responding to the actions we took in the 24 hours prior, and it created trust between two people that was needed at the time. Being prepared for those meetings was essential. Without it we would both have wasted our time.

The time spent with leaders very often sway the direction of our work. We provide input, intelligence and recommendations. We get a decision. We get direction. We are provided with important insight from people who often have great experience.

At the same time, as a leader you know that meeting with members of your team or a supplier can also change the direction you move. The engagement is reciprocal, and the value is mutual if both parties maintain the same respect for each other, their contribution, and the time devoted to each other.

But sometimes we can get caught in a cycle of process meetings. We can forget the purpose and value of why we meet. Our days become filled with meetings that prevent us from delivering value. And it is because we have fell into the trap of placing little value on the meeting itself. We don’t prepare. We turn up late. We fill the room with people who don’t really need to be there. We are distracted. We want to be somewhere else.

Since I have left corporate life I have  enjoyed the freedom of less meetings and at the same time noticed the absence of days filled with collegiate engagement.

But I have regained my appreciation for meeting people.

Meet less. Meet for less time. And bring your entire being to each engagement. You are meeting with real people after all.