You’re the most senior person in this meeting. It doesn’t matter what the call is about: weekly staff meeting, a progress check-in for an area, or a talent review. The common thread is, in this kind of meeting, you’re the “boss:” everyone looks at you every 5 seconds, judging your reactions and trying to make you think they’re smart.
If you find yourself in that setting, you’ve got to avoid the deadly sins.
1. Being late
I get it, you’re the most senior person in the meeting, you’re the busiest one. And sometimes other meetings run over. Do you recognize, however, what feeling you’re instilling in the people sitting there, waiting for you? They think you’re actively disrespecting them; that you don’t care about their time; that what you’ve been doing is more important to you than them. All of these likely aren’t true, but that doesn’t make it better. Your job as a leader is to UPLIFT your employees, make them feel that you serve THEM. You communicate the opposite when you’re late.
What do you do if you were late due to reasons beyond your control? Ideally, slack someone in the meeting and tell them. Then begin the meeting with a heartfelt apology. Tell them what happened and how sorry you are for wasting their time. Lower your status in this apology, communicate that you’re the team’s servant - not the other way around. Then do the same at the end of the meeting: “Sorry again I was late, I still feel terrible. Coffee on me tomorrow.”
We all hate being interrupted - that makes us feel that the other person just doesn’t care about what we have to say. It’s ten times worse to be interrupted by your leader in a public setting. Besides feeling ignored, we feel humiliated in front of our colleagues. What a terrible experience. Just don’t do it to others. Period.
If you find yourself in a once-in-a-blue-moon spot where you just must interrupt someone - for example, if a meeting has run over and someone keeps talking, preface this with profuse apologies. “Bob, I am so terribly sorry to interrupt, but we have a hard stop. I want to hear more on this topic X - I’ll follow up separately.”
If you’re doing this kind of interrupting more than once a week, you’ve got to change your behavior.
3. Engaging in a 1:1 conversation for more than a minute
You haven’t talked to one of the attendees of this team meeting for a little while, and that person has been working on something that’s very important to you. It’s tempting to engage with this person, asking them all sorts of detailed questions about what they’ve been doing. This person is right there! I can just ask them, what’s wrong with that?!
Every time you do that, the rest of the group loses interest. If you do this consistently, they start thinking that the meeting is not for them - it’s for you. If they think the meeting is for you, they start paying less attention, tuning out. “Our staff meeting is when I get my email done,” they think. Or worse, they think that you don’t care about spending their time wisely. Is this the kind of reputation you want as a leader?
4. Doing most of the talking
We’ve all been there. The entire team is there, pleading for your wisdom. It’s so easy to bask in the warm light of attention, giving them one opinion after another, listening to the sweet ohhhs and ahhs, accompanied by their nods and “great point.”
Stop. This is a moment of weakness. You didn’t become a manager to be admired. You didn’t become a manager for people to like you - they actually like you less now, because you get to weigh in on their yearly bonuses.
You became a manager to help others be better, to have more impact, to get work done through others. Every time you’re doing the talking, offering opinions, it’s you doing the work - not your team. You’re not a multiplier in this context - you’re a self-obsessed narcissist that likes hearing their own voice. And everyone else sees it, they’re just polite enough, or scared enough, to smile and nod.
5. Being the first to answer questions
Do you want your team to be looking at you for every answer? Or do you want them to autonomously solve problems, using their best judgment? Do you want to be the bottleneck at work who spends zero time with the family, on top of a reputation of a micromanager, or do you want to be a coach of a high-performing team that makes good choices?
Every time you state your opinion first, you’re going for the former. Every time you reserve your commentary and let the team arrive at a conclusion, you cultivate the latter. Every time you’re the last to speak, adding a missing aspect to a forming opinion, you cultivate the latter. Every time you say “I agree, great point,” you make your team feel that you trust them to do stuff - instead of checking in with you on every aspect of every plan.
6. Making directive statements, instead of asking questions
If your ultimate goal is to have a self-sufficient team that excels without the need for you to supervise them all the time, you need to truly teach them how to fish. How do you do that? Not by giving them the answers - but by asking them questions, engaging them, challenging their approaches.
Try speaking only in open-ended questions. “Jenny, what do you think about this approach?” “Bob, how’s this gonna work in terms of scalability?” “Claire, who’s the right person to lead this project?” You know all the answers to these questions - that’s why you’re making the big bucks, darn it! By asking these and not answering them, you allow the team to step up; you communicate to them that you trust them. Moreover, you don’t sacrifice the quality of the outcome at all: if Bob’s answer on scalability has a blind spot, you can just ask a follow-up question.
7. Projecting criticism in a public setting
One of your directs screwed up - their feature didn’t ship, and you just got a beating from your own boss. You come to your staff meeting immediately afterward, and you’re tempted to immediately unload on the culprit. “You made me look bad to our CEO! How could you miss this when we talked through this three times!..”
Please don’t. This won’t make the culprit any more accountable - and won’t make the rest of the team feel better about being on the team, either. They also won’t be feeling good about your leadership if you do.
Instead, vaguely say something about “concerns about the delay” and that you’ll “follow up with the relevant people later” and do all the criticism in private. You can be direct, you can be upset (hopefully, constructively) - but you can’t go ballistic in public.
Bonus: Never praising the team
The team just showed you a plan they’ve been slaving away on for a week. They just shipped a big feature and are showing you the early outcomes. At the end of the meeting, you just say “thanks, looking forward to seeing how this develops.”
What does your team feel? That you aren’t sure about how they’ve done. They don’t know if they have your trust or if they need to approach things completely differently next time. They’re anxious; and they also don’t know how to improve, because you haven’t told them that this work is actually good.
My fundamental principle for culture change is: Catch your people doing something right. If they’ve done a good job - anything over a “B+” in your book - give them praises: loudly, concretely, and publicly. Say something like this at the end of the session: “You guys really knocked it out of the park here. Jenny - competitive analysis was really on point, it helps us position our solution correctly. Now, this is just the beginning of the journey - we have lots more work to do - but given how well you’ve done the launch, I feel pretty confident about how this will develop. Excited to get your update next week.”