Put Down That PDA in Your Meeting

Admit it, you’ve done this too – sat through a meeting, spending most of the time reading email and typing responses.  You thought, “just one more message, then I can focus on this meeting”.  But as you’re typing, you suddenly hear your name or a keyword that peaks your interest.  You look up and either jump in with a completely irrelevant comment or have to ask clarification on what’s happening.

This is often a bigger problem than we recognize, especially if you’re the boss in the room.  Regardless of the appropriateness of your response, the team may not always question your decisions or guidance (symptoms of a bigger problem, but that’s another post).  Worse, they may assume you know something they do not and receive your comments as marching orders.  In contrast, the best leaders ensure the success of their team and their own careers, by being present in the moment.  Below are some important reasons that great leaders, as servants in the organization, must ensure team meetings have their full focus:

1. Ensure Clarity

If you’re not hearing all the concerns, you may easily miss the most important point.  For example, you may think the greatest problem faced by the team is a shortage of staff to complete on time.  Therefore, when you peak up from the Blackberry after a comment about a particular person’s time constraints, you assure the team you will adjust the necessary priorities to get all the resources they need.

What you missed was that the Project Manager just said, prior to you’re full attention, that the budget was going to be overrun by about 50% to hit the launch date.  In addition, there was one person whose time was too tight.  However, after you clarified you would adjust priorities to get the PM the resources she needs, she’s off and spending to acquire the staffing necessary to hit launch date.

2. Be Empathetic

Employees and followers want leaders that truly understand their challenges.  The casual fly by to say hello and exclaim you know “just how hard everyone’s working” is not empathy.  In contrast, the manager that listens into the specifics of meetings and can recite case-after-case of specific challenges their employees are facing while caring – that is empathy.

The leader that serves their organization can sit in a meeting and challenge the team member that sheepishly agrees to accepting a new task.  The empathizing leader recognizes that this person is pressured into accepting responsibility, but also knows their bandwidth is too tight to be successful. Such a serving leader may respond, “Mary, I saw your hours last week exceeded 70, for the third week in a row – can you really take this task on top of the Accounts Payable project you’re leading?”

3. Deliver Support

Side-comments are often made in meetings that great leaders recognize as red flags.  These moments are invitations for the leader to understand where problems may be arising. Such opportunities are not listed on the formal agenda, they’re not always tracked as risks either.  Instead, asides may be assumed known by the leader, but in reality, require the presence and thorough attention of the leader to ask the right question.

If you’re too busy reading your iPhone and miss the comment the team leader makes about “Marketing pulling all our resources”, you may not even be aware of the major risk just raised.  You’re team believes you saw the email that requested this and so believe you’re on board.

Now, I’m no fool and I’m no saint.  There remain times when I feel obligated to check my Blackberry during the meeting.  Production issues,vital budgeting times and similar high priority concerns may require our attention throughout the day.  However, I’ve learned to ask my team to call me on it. When I seem too distracted, I want the team to say so.  In addition, you may find it helpful to make sure they understand why you are distracted before the meeting begins and ask them to call your attention to key concerns.  Ultimately, it is important that your team meetings include not only your physical presence but your full mental attention as well.  Otherwise, your team will quickly see you as a figure head and not someone there to serve the best interests of the team and the company.

Question: What tips do you have for ensuring your team has your full focus, especially in meetings?