Designing for Empathy and Other Meeting Insights from Paul Axtell

So we’re hustling with the Amazemeet app and giving the Meeting Facilitator Canvas around, but we were wondering what people – especially experts – thought of the idea. Maybe there’s something we’re missing or maybe their insights can direct us better. In any case, I started asking around and…

We got the pleasure of chatting to Paul Axtell whose book we greatly enjoyed because his values align with our own. For example, Paul talks about empathy and design, which are the most important elements in a meeting if you ask us. A meeting cannot be productive without strong leadership as well and it seems that Paul really knows what he’s talking about, so take notes and let us know what you thought at the end. But before we start, here’s what Paul does:

PaulAuthorPhoto

Paul Axtell is the author of Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations and Being Remarkable, a powerhouse of advice for extraordinary performance at work and in life. He provides consulting, coaching, and conversational skills training to a wide variety of clients, from Fortune 500 companies and universities to nonprofit organizations and government agencies. 

All right, let’s start with the interrogation! I mean, questions. What is the biggest pain point for you personally in meetings, Paul?

If you ask people about their complaints regarding meetings, these are the top three responses. People who do not listen to others (1) distracting behavior (2) lack of progress on agreed upon actions between meetings (3). The most missing points in the meetings I see are these: 1. Lack of visibility during complex conversations. 2. Leaving a topic without deliberately and thoroughly wrapping it up.

My personal complaint might be that people ask to discuss things that they have little intention to change.

What pain points do you encounter most often in meetings? How do you deal with them?

I don’t experience many because I ask for what I want up front in terms of how the meeting will go. People are always relieved that someone has thought about the best way to handle each conversation.

The old adage about getting what you expect holds true in meetings — expect more and you’ll get more.

In your book, Meetings Matter, you focus on relationships and conversations. Can you tell us more about how you decided to focus on these two elements and how they make or break a meeting?

After your core competency or discipline, the next skill set you need is conversational skills and relationship creation. If both are in place, then meetings are easy. If one or both are missing, then it’s is much more difficult to converse in groups. Therefore, all ideas about how to improve meetings will wither. Need conversation and relationship first in place first. This becomes more important as group size goes above eight.

You talk about “designing a conversation”, Paul, and we’re constantly reminding people that they have to “design their meetings”. Do you reckon a good meeting design could open up more space for empathy?

Interesting question…never put meeting design as a source of empathy together before. Seems to make sense. For instance, I’m an advocate of starting all meetings with this question:

“Does anyone need to say or ask anything before we start?”

This gives people permission to express something that they would like people to be aware of or address so they can concentrate on the meeting. This would be a generous way to begin.

It’s mostly the responsibility of a manager to design meetings, but what do you think of more collaborative ones? How much say should attendees have over what happens in a meeting?

Participants have a lot of say about process but it will go better if they are reacting to a well thought out design rather than taking the groups time to start with a blank canvas.

Speaking of canvas, could you look at the Meeting Facilitator Canvas and let me know if anything’s missing or could be improved? 

First blush, I really like what you’ve got. You have the most important segments identified.

CS-Axtell1

I did a webinar for Soundview last Tuesday and one of the questions was about ways to track a meeting. I’m not much of a fan of Powerpoint because it shuts down conversation and sets up distraction, but this is clearly something different.

What kind of digital solutions should managers already be using?

Powerpoints, iPads, video conferencing, audio conferencing.

Do you think “meeting apps” help or disrupt meetings? What do you think about The Meeting Facilitator Canvas?

I’m relatively naive with respect to apps. I do love mind mapping and taking notes in this way either on paper or on an iPad if people can do it quickly.

I’m in favor of trying anything and everything to make meetings work. 

The decision point is always, does the technology add value to the conversation or take away from the attention to the conversations that make up the meetings. The Meeting Facilitator Canvas can serve as a gentle reminder to not skip any key elements of preparing for and leading meetings.

How open are people to new solutions and habits in their “meeting behavior” in your experience?

People want to be better and they are very open to suggestions by anyone with whom they admire, trust, and can provide feedback in a non-threatening way.

Any parting advice for the people and companies who want more productive meetings?

Have fewer items on the agenda, invite fewer people, have a clear track going in and stay on track. Have someone set up to issue meeting notes within eight hours. Have someone set up to track all commitments made during a meeting so they are completed as scheduled. Talk about the right things — things that move your company forward.

Yikes, seems like the Amazemeet app can take care of all that. Once we’re done with it. If you, dear reader, want to get into our private beta, all you have to do is sign up on the main site

And thank you for sharing your insights with us, Paul. ☺

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

How to Approach the Problem of Anonymous Feedback

Two movie scenes come to mind when I think about anonymous feedback:

  1. From Life Partners, 2014
  2. From Legally Blonde 2, 2003

Excuse my poor examples, but bear with me, it’ll make sense.

In Life Partners, Sasha has just received a bunch of anonymous notes from colleagues. She’s devastated because they’re all negative.

In Legally Blonde, Elle introduces “The Snap Cup” where you’re supposed to come up with compliments for your colleagues and share them anonymously.

Which one of those methods do you think renders better results?

According to science,

People are more productive when they are happy.

They find solutions more easily, enjoy their job more, and overall feel more connected and engaged with their teams and the company in general.

This is a gold mine for managers because it gives you an easy solution to solve your “engagement problem” and also attract more millennials to your teams. When you offer something that makes people happy, they will fight to work for you and bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to your projects.

So, whenever possible, start off on a positive note.

Just look at buffer. Far from a large enterprise, their record of 1000 candidates per job offer is unheard of in the startup world. If you look at what they offer their employees, you’ll see why the demand is so high.

perksandbenefitsatbuffer

Wouldn’t you be happy with this arrangement? (By the way, this is for Happiness Hero. There are other formulas for the different positions.)

bufferpostcard

Not only do they offer a LOT, but they also provide great customer service because they make sure they make you, the customer, happy. (See image on the left.)

So that’s one way to achieve great results: Strategize for happiness on every level of your business.

And I mean, every level.

When it comes to feedback,

Even though there are different types of people and as such, every one of them requires different kind of feedback, there’s a universal fact that:

Positive reinforcement works better than its negative counterpart.

In the first film I mentioned, Sasha wasn’t motivated to improve her service or even stay with the company. She simply wanted a new job.

In the second film Elle inspired her colleagues to be nicer to one another and to take time to share the small joys in the snap cup as well. (The cup even moved to Congress, but that was more satirical than realistic.)

So when you’re thinking about positive feedback, you have to consider the way it’s presented. As a leader, you can encourage certain types of feedback more than others, or straight out make a rule “no badmouthing”.

I recently talked to a girl who used to work at Achievers, who had daily scrum meetings where they shared happy news about their lives. Usually, at a scrum meeting you share your goals and achievements, but these guys just wanted to wake everyone up and make them engage with one another on a more meaningful level. I was told it made everybody smile.

As for constructive feedback,

It is very much useful and desired. However, when it’s presented in an anonymous context, it forces you to start thinking things like, ‘who could have said that’ and ‘am I in trouble’, etc.

You must always think of the value something brings to people’s lives.

Most companies complain about anonymous feedback and it’s probably because the feedback itself is not presented in the right context. If you think about it, would you rather meet face-to-face with your boss and hear what they have to say about your performance — honestly — along with the criticism and praise, or would you rather get it anonymously?

In the app market a lot of people like anonymous apps because they can speak their minds without being judged publicly, which I think is a cop-out and if more people were brave enough to speak their mind, we would live (and work) in better conditions. If you can’t say something constructive to somebody’s face, you’re giving into your own fear of being confrontational. And most of the time this fear is ungrounded — people often appreciate straightforward feedback.

After all, it’s not personal, it’s business.

I understand about fearing your boss and fearing what your colleagues think about you, but those concerns do not make your life easier or better — they just increase your daily stress. (And let’s remember that the best managers are the ones with a “no bullshit” approach, so if you want to go higher up the ranks, you need to start practicing being direct and honest right now.)

In the name of a stress-free existence,

Let’s be honest in the office and only be anonymous when we have positive things to share. When you share negative feedback anonymously, it’s like you’re admitting that you’re afraid of giving this feedback to the person’s face, and that helps nobody. Fear is the worst driver. (Even worse than the drunk ones.)

So if you insist on anonymous feedback…

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Finally, the most important thing you can do for your team is to foster an environment of encouragement and positive company culture. The rest will follow in the form of grateful employees and personal fulfillment.

Once that happens, your own job satisfaction will increase and the company at large will prosper without any additional incentives.

*

Question: What are you doing to foster a positive culture at work?

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

Introducing New Habits in the Meeting Room

When I was in primary school the principal decided that it would be wise to play the Bulgarian Hymn before classes every single day, so they did. Pretty soon it got so annoying we staged a rebellion and they dropped it.

I realize other schools around the world may be doing it and you might think we were strange to revolt, but it’s hard to rope us in — Bulgarians I mean — if you try, you need to have a pretty fancy rope there, so when you try, we’re so preoccupied with how fancy it is that we forget what it’s there for. You know what I mean?

I have a theory about why this attempt didn’t pan out. Let’s examine the new habit they were trying to introduce to us:

  • it’s always the same, no alterations
  • it’s supposed to inspire us
  • it’s a show of respect

I see various problems with this method. First of all, we’re a bunch of kids, so we really don’t want to be showing respect to anybody instead of happily shuffling in our seats and passing notes. Secondly, after a couple of days it feels like you’re being forced into the same mind-numbing ritual every single day… like being force-fed pancakes every morning of your life.

You get bored. You want out. End of story.

Finally, the fact that it’s always the same suggests that the system works. When something works, you repeat it, over and over.

Okay… but do modern meetings work? I’ll let you answer that one.

If something does not work, don’t try to repeat it over and over, or else you’ll have a revolt at your hands.

Judging by the first two problems, I’ll conclude that the system was broken before it was introduced, thus rendering it completely useless.

In fact, I’ve seen many employees complain about daily scrum meetings for the following reason: instead of increasing productivity and morale, they’re viewed as “just another distraction”. Truth is, some people will see them as such and others won’t — it also depends on character. Ultimately you want to see which companies make it work and which couldn’t, so you can manage an informed opinion before you apply them yourself.

Which leads us back to the question… what is it exactly that makes new habits stick? Is it repetition? Judging by the story I gave you, repetition won’t fix something that’s broken. Is it authority? If the CEO says “we’ll have three-hour meetings every day from now till the end of days”, will people adhere to his command? Probably, but out of fear of losing their jobs. They won’t be looking forward to these meetings, that’s for sure.

So what is it?

In his TED talk about motivation, Dan Pink clearly states that intrinsic motivation works better than external stimuli. Bonuses are not enough when you dread the task or when it’s too hard to complete. This is why there are so many entrepreneurs nowadays — because by being their own bosses, they get to do the things they love. 

Tech giants like Google and Atlassian know that autonomy’s important, so they have created things like “do whatever you want” days and “ShipIt days”. They KNOW their employees, their values, and they respect their needs by meeting them, not just acknowledging them.

It shouldn’t be about someone telling you to do something. The idea should come from you, not from “them”.

Them being managers, CEO’s, and basically anyone in charge.

After I though about this for a while, I remembered Simon Sinek saying:

They don’t show up for us, they show up for themselves.

That’s it! People pick up new habits when they want to pick them up. It’s so obvious and yet so overlooked. Granted, you do your job and everything that’s required of you, but when you don’t like it, productivity saps.

So how can you introduce new habits that people will want to pick up?

Ask them. By learning to ask powerful questions, you are connecting to your team in a powerful way. You’re engaging them.

So ask them what they think would fix the “constant interruptions” problem (in some offices they use headphones). Ask them — individually — how they handle the flood of emails in their inbox (maybe it’s “inbox zero” or a template system). Ask them what hours they’re most productive in (which depends on whether they’re early birds or night owls) and whether they would like the option to take work home or leave it at the office (Volkswagen employees are not allowed to access email after work hours). Ask them whether they would like to try walking meetings. Ask them how the ideal meeting should go.

Percolate has the following rules:

BpnCtZWCEAA_GN1

Your team should easily come up with an even better one if you care enough to ask them and listen to their answers. You don’t have to be the disengaged, arrogant boss, micromanaging everyone. You can be the humble leader your team needs to evolve. You can be better than those before you. Let this be your competitive advantage, not trying to copy someone famous.

I will let you mull this over, but consider the alternative —judging by every meeting you’ve ever had, meetings continue to be unproductive and boring. Nothing changes, nobody does anything about it, you waste money, time, and stress over results while employee engagement declines.

To overcome the same old problems, you must introduce new solutions.

And when you figure it out, tell us! We’d love to hear about it. 🙂

*

P.S. And keep your meetings organized with the Meeting Canvas. Hah-yah!

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

5 Brilliant TED Ideas for Leaders

I bet you’ve watched some TED talks, haven’t you? You closed the door, hoping the kids or the partner wouldn’t hear you, or maybe you were slacking off at work, looking for some inspiration. I’ve been there.

TED.com is not only a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration, it is also an amazing collection of hacks and potential strategies for the businesses of the future — or in your case, your business in the present.

Why wait for change when we can kick-start it right now?

As a leader, you are probably always looking for great ideas to incorporate in your business. These days not only small businesses have to innovate to grow, but big companies as well, if they want to stay on top. So consider the ideas I’ve outlined for you below. Don’t be a dead fish like some of your colleagues who keep saying they’ll “make changes” but never do.

Of course, I’m referring to the famous quote by Malcolm Muggeridge:

Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.

Are you ready to enter the 21st century? Here we go…

How to Make Employees Happy

That’s the easy part, even though you don’t know it yet. Maybe you think that happiness depends on many things, but science says a different story. Basically, whatever happens to you affects only 25% of your mood and the rest is in the way your brain processes the world.

positiveexrscisesdone

There are several exercises that — if done for 21 days — will drastically change the happiness level of your employees (and your own if you choose to partake), which will then increase their engagement and productivity.

My favorite exercise is “three good things” (or 3 gratitudes) — every day you write down or tell somebody three good things that happened to you that day. Eventually your brain starts to notice the good more than the bad, and when you habitually start fixating on good things, your happiness level shoots up. If you incorporate one or more of these exercises during a team-building seminar or the daily scrum meeting, your team will thank you for it.

There are more cool insights in Shawn Achor’s talk if you’ve the time:

[ted id=1344]

How to Keep Employees Motivated

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

This sentence is the most memorable part of Dan Pink’s talk about motivation. First of all there are two types of motivation— external and internal. You can probably guess which one is more important even though the other is woefully overrated at work. All those bonuses, awards, etc., they are all incentives for a job well done, but not only that. The system of giving rewards to “the best” means “we’ll give it to you if you get there”.

Science shows  that whenever a task involves actual cognitive effort, incentives don’t work. Instead of motivating people, they actually lower their chances of completing the task successfully. If the task is manual and easy, this problem doesn’t exist, but Pink posits that nowadays there is no such thing as a “simple task”. Everything depends on creativity and our creativity saps when we have to compete for rewards. Instead of incentives, Pink suggests 3 crucial internal motivators:

thethreefoldmodelmotivation

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. And how can you apply these? Pink offers examples of autonomy at work in Atlassian, where there are designated days for “doing whatever you want”, i.e. personal projects outside of work, and the results are always —  boosted productivity and amazing new products coming out. (It’s called Fedex Days. Google it.)

So try and give your employees some autonomy. They do it at Google, too. As for Mastery and Purpose, you can fill in the blanks.

[ted id=618]

How to Inspire People to take Action

Simon Sinek’s famous “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” talk is brilliant, and it has been praised time and again for its ingenuity. He gives a simple model, explains how you can apply the “golden circle”, and at the end of it you feel as though you can convince anyone to do anything.

simonsinekcircle

All you need to do is start from Why. Look at the circle on the left. It has three rings in it — why is the innermost, then there’s how, and finally — what. The outermost circle is the surface — your product, what your company is selling/offering to the world. Is it cars? Stocks? Whatever it is, it’s your what and the how, naturally, is how it works and what it offers.

So you usually explain, “we make this and it does this and it’s amazing!” That’s pretty much the gist of your marketing. You skip the why, but it’s the most important element. The why is your purpose, it’s WHY you’re selling cars and why you’re working at the company.

If you don’t believe in your product, who will?! 

A great leader would start from the why and end with the what. They’ll say “We believe in diversity, innovation. If you’re the sort of person who likes to try new things, this model is revolutionary. It does [this and that]. Now people want the product and people want to buy it from you because:

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Next time you’re selling an idea to someone — be it a job candidate, a potential partner, or a client, start with the why and hook them.

[ted id=848]

How to Keep Everyone’s Accounts Safe

Now for a more practical idea, Lorrie Faith Cranor has studied thousands of passwords, and the pointers she gives can make you and your team feel a bit safer in the recent threats on cyber security.

First of all, you probably know that you’re not supposed to write your passwords down or re-use them (oops), so I’ll skip to the juicy stuff.

There are several ways to come up with memorable AND safe passwords. For example, she discovered that you don’t have to include all kinds of confusing symbols in your password. Instead you can make it: longer (a phrase or sentence) or a combination of random words (something like cat window tree fall). Even a shorter pseudo-word works (as long as it’s pronounceable).

Also, she advises to let a computer generate it for you because you apparently suck at it. And whatever you do, DO NOT use: iloveyou, monkey, and names of pets. Apparently, everybody thinks monkeys are cute.

quiltpass

Take a closer look at the image above. It contains the most commonly used words and combinations in passwords, which you’re not supposed to use yourself because the hackers will immediately sniff you down. And set some guidelines for your employees, too. All this time they’ve been walking around with (possibly) very shitty passwords.

[ted id=2030]

How to Avoid Unnecessary Meetings

And we end with David Grady’s classic “How to Save the World (or at least yourself) from Bad Meetings”, which is very topical seeing as Amazemeet is a tool for better meetings (which you can find here).

In his talk, Grady announces that there is a global epidemic called MAS: Mindless Accept Syndrome, which has gripped every worker, everywhere. It makes you accept invitations to meetings and suffer endless hours of frustration because you didn’t take the time to investigate.

nomaslol

The solution: say NO MAS and click the tentative button on your invitation, and talk to the person to check if your presence is really necessary. Are you doing that? If not, it’s time to start…

[ted id=2135]

*

Stop wasting your time and other people’s and start valuing it. Lock your team in a room with padded walls and play them all of the above talks if you have to, just don’t underestimate the most valuable thing you have at your possession — it’s not your money, it’s your time.

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

Why You Should Encourage Conflict at Work and Women Speaking Up

When I was in University, I learned a lot about myself.

For instance, for a person who shies away from conflict at all costs, I sure liked it a lot when it came to ideas. While everyone else would stay silent in debates, I would argue to the death. Even though it’s not typical of me, it just seemed that somebody had to. I mean we’re not sheep.

Did you hear about women staying silent in meetings so that men could not interrupt them? Sadly, not just women, but people in general do this: they hold back for fear of saying the wrong thing, being perceived as a nay-sayer, or just because they don’t like conflict. I mean, who does?

mime

The problem in this scenario is: There could be no progress without conflict. With conflict comes creative thinking, innovation, change. If you stay silent long enough, you might as well become a —

<mime.

Sure, there is the bad kind of conflict — nobody would invite it in their office or during their lunch break or from their boss. But that’s generally the kind where someone is arguing just to argue. This is completely different from disagreeing with a point. And as long as nobody takes it personally, a disagreement can kick off a discussion.

Staying silent is just another problem in organizations that needs to be given top priority. Especially when it turns into a gender issue. And it’s not always driven by fear either. Sometimes people will agree because of bad politics, sheer laziness, or even blind faith.

There’s a term in Social Psychology related to this; every team encounters it sooner or later — when you’re in the meeting room, you are a team. You know it as ‘groupthink’. It’s when members of a team agree on a decision, whether it’s the right decision or not. For example, the poor CEO below can’t get any counter-arguments from his team because they would agree with anything, whatever the reason. (Maybe to leave early?)

According to research, this process has lead to many dysfunctional and irrational decisions throughout history. A few would be:

  • The Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 — the explosion was caused by the hardware failure of a solid rocket booster (SRB) o-ring, however, NASA was warned about abnormally cold weather the previous day, and because they had postponed once, they were reluctant to do it again. Pressured by NASA, the engineers agreed to proceed as planned.
  • The 2008 financial crisis — Wall Street CEOs, investors, bankers and homeowners all believed that the credit system was working, even though accountants and economists voiced their concerns. The former groups of people held the false belief that nothing could go wrong, but if history is any indication, that’s exactly when it does (i.e. Titanic).
  • The attack on Pearl Harbor — many of the senior officers did not take the warnings seriously because they thought the Japanese would never dare attack U.S. soldiers, that a war with the States would be futile.

And so on. While not as serious as a mistake of war, a faulty decision made in a board room meeting could result in disaster for any company. If the people on top weren’t so quick to judge without backing it up, the middle people would not feel the pressure to comply, and these mistakes would not be present.

So, it seems, it all depends on management.

You’re the manager, or CEO, or whoever you are, you threw the meeting, so you’re in charge. Take matters in your hands and make this meeting count. If your coworkers will not argue, then encourage them.

In case you think all of this is mumbo-jumbo, I’m going to point you towards a video I watched on TED.com, which completely threw me.

It’s called Dare to Disagree and this is the summary:

Most people instinctively avoid conflict, but as Margaret Heffernan shows us, good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates (sometimes counterintuitively) how the best partners aren’t echo chambers — and how great research teams, relationships and businesses allow people to deeply disagree.

In her speech, Margaret Heffernan, gives a great example of a good team —Dr. Alice Stewart and a statistician called George Neale. Back in the 1950s, Alice discovered that X-raying pregnant women caused cancer in their children, and she fought to spread awareness (which took 50 years!).

Now, Alice and George were great collaborators because they were completely different. Whatever Alice thought, George disagreed with, and vice versa. But they saw it as a good thing — as a breeding ground for thinking. They knew that arguing with each other made their ideas more informed, more creative, and in the end, more valuable.

And when George didn’t argue about her cancer findings, Alice knew she was right. Isn’t that great? Having a compass telling you you’re on the right track? This could be your colleague, your employee, your wife…

Whoever it is, it’s important to have a person who challenges you.

In terms of teams, project managers can ensure that there’s an open-argue or a ‘must-argue’ policy. You can call it a challenge — people love challenges. It’s up to you to encourage the right behaviors. Make debating a game. Make it fun. Make it a part of the company culture. You hear the buzz phrase ‘company culture’ everywhere, and for a good reason. Companies with a healthy culture produce happy relationships and happy employees.

These days everything’s up in the air and there’s a rug underneath your feet, waiting to be pulled, so do something about it. Without risk there’s no reward. And without conflict, there’s no progress.

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

3 Overlooked “Soft” Skills in Leaders — Steve Jobs Had None of Those

For a decade now I’ve been arguing with my father what intelligence means. He (a member of Mensa, believe it or not) argues that IQ surely determines how smart you are, and I (forever the fan of Forrest Gump) will argue that emotional intelligence is sometimes more important than IQ.

In the context of business, I’ve been proven right by surveys (“employers value emotional intelligence over IQ”) and research (employees/executives with higher EQ perform better than others), which makes total sense, especially for managers. When you have to meet and manage people on a daily basis, you need some sort of understanding of people.

The only time a leader doesn’t need to be emotionally intelligent is when he/she’s working with robots.

Then there’s the whole debate about “hard” versus “soft” skills, which is the same thing, really, and it’s completely pointless since an effective leader needs to have both. Let’s take Steve Jobs for example.

Jobs was— and forever will be — known as a great innovator. Some may even go as far as calling him a genius. However:

A genius does not a great leader make, necessarily.

Was he a good leader? A lot of people will say no, simply because:

  1. He didn’t have high emotional intelligence.
  2. He didn’t have some vital soft skills.

I mean, the guy yelled and threw tantrums at work. Around him, employees had to walk on egg-shells and every time someone took the initiative to speak, he would publicly humiliate them. No wonder most of the staff of Apple left prematurely! He was more of a dictator than a leader.

A good leader would be the opposite really, so I’ve taken the liberty to collect 3 somewhat overlooked — because they are “soft” — skills in order to get to the bottom of the question of great leadership:

  1. Empathy
  2. Communication
  3. Humility

There was a time when Psychology was a bogus science and management was straight-forward. However, as the times bring change and we find ourselves in a less straightforward world, I’ve taken to believe that some things “make sense” and other things “make progress”. Whether these soft skills make sense to you or not, they’ve certainly made progress in both scientific and business contexts. So let’s discuss them individually.

Let’s talk about Empathy.

Empathy is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence.

Empathy is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes for a day. It helps us connect and communicate in ways that bind us to our fellow workers. Without it, we are all islands in the same ocean.

Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last and Start With Why, says:

The lesson I’m learning is that I’m useless by myself. My success hinges entirely on the people I work with — the people who enlist themselves to join me in my vision. And it’s my responsibility to see that they’re working at their best capacity.

See that? It’s the leader’s responsibility to make sure the employees are working at their best capacity, meaning they are at their most productive. I don’t know about you, but the only times I’ve been productive at work were when I wasn’t being driven crazy by a passive-aggressive boss from hell.

The manager-employee relationship is so vital to both sides’ performance that it should never be overlooked. You can’t expect for employees to be engaged without actually being engaged first by their manager, and you can’t expect the manager to make progress without knowing where the team’s at.

It’s a team effort — as cheesy as it sounds — but the leader sets the pace. The manager is the one who sets the tone of his/her relationship with team members, and if a member is slacking, then just talk to them.

But make sure you’ve set the right tone first. I agree with Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, when he says:

At its very heart, a business is the beauty of bringing together people and things to make the community better off — these are the businesses we admire. Empathy is the one tool that makes it all happen.

Let’s talk about Communication.

If you’re empathetic, chances are you’re a decent communicator. Notice I say decent, not great. Truth is, even an empathetic person can be bad at communicating… if they don’t listen carefully.

Communication goes both ways. Now, you may be excellent at putting your point across and even motivating your team to get the job done. But have you asked your team for feedback? Are they likely to come up and give it to you? Those are very important questions to think about.

Once you get your team talking, that’s when you get them engaged.

According to employee engagement expert David McLeod, engaged staff deliver 50% higher customer loyalty, 50% higher sales, and 27% higher profits — all figures any company owner would find attractive.

Furthermore a happy, engaged employee is more likely to stick with you when, for example, the competition offers them a job. Ka-bing!

Maybe there’s something to learn from Holacracy here that could benefit project managers.

Holacracy is a very modern idea of a business without management roles. More specifically, Holacracy distributes leadership into each role, so each employee can hold different roles at different stages of the project. Ultimately, the goal is transparency — a buzz word of late, especially in entrepreneurial circles.

While the idea itself could have some holes, when it comes to communication, it solves what the traditional corporate structure cannot — the problem of communication between the different levels. It could be quite empowering for employees to be regarded as important as the VP, for example, and encouraged — by a meeting facilitator — to voice their opinions and “tensions”. In that meeting, your main priority won’t be to speak according to your job title, but to advance the project.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be trying it out before discarding the idea. Times are moving fast and new challenges are presenting to employers that we never imagined possible. To paraphrase Darwin, adapt or die.

Let’s talk about Humility.

Probably the most overlooked quality in business, and in life.

Humility is a quality few people have. It’s in the emotional intelligence toolset, but unlike empathy, it targets the self, the ego. Most people — especially bosses — have enormous egos. They wouldn’t shut up about it. And they put people off with their arrogance and selfishness.

It takes enormous strength to put your own ego aside and admit that you make mistakes. Let someone else talk. Let others list your accomplishments and shrug compliments off. It’s not about you, after all.

For you, it’s about the common good.

A humble leader not only understands and listens. A humble leader brings out the best of other people.

It’s natural that when you put yourself aside, you’re able to really see others. To see what they’re good at, to tell them that, and to inspire them to take action. You’re naturally good at leading and people are happy to follow.

And hey, it’s not just mumbo-jumbo. A recent Catalyst study shows that humility is one of four critical qualities of a good leader. Not to mention that scholars from the University of Washington Foster School of Business discovered that humble people make the most effective leaders!

As the researchers put it:

Our study suggests that a ‘quieter’ leadership approach — listening, being transparent, aware of your limitations and appreciating co-workers strengths and contributions, is an effective way to engage employees.

Not only were the employees of such people more engaged, but they were also more committed to their leader’s vision. I mean, when your boss actively listens to your ideas and encourages you to share them, wouldn’t you be more committed and receptive to their ideas?

Of course you would.

So you can try this approach or… you know, idolize Steve Jobs and be a jerk at the office, but bear in mind that the bottom lines and the attitudes of your employees will be a perfect reflection of your leadership style.

In conclusion,

We, at amazemeet, certainly hope that you can see these “soft” skills as they truly are — a competitive advantage and an enlightened way to be.

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

An Open Letter to All Fortune 500 CFOs

Dear Jim,

I have to say, I’m quite impressed with the growth you guys have reached lately. And congratulations on your big promotion, much deserved!

Jim, I’m writing because of an issue that cannot wait. I’m concerned about how much ACME Corp may be losing in  money, productivity  and human potential as a result of wasteful meetings.

Did you know there are 11 million formal meetings in the U.S. daily, half of which are deemed to be unproductive, not to mention 9 out of 10 people attending meetings report that they daydream during them!

All this costs U.S. businesses a total of 37 billion dollars every year.

I imagine the story is similar for  ACME Corp. If you have 10 people sitting in a room for 4 hours, that’s $50,000 for a single meeting and worse, if even half of that meeting is unproductive, you’ve wasted $25,000!

Now, imagine each person has between 50 and 70 meetings per month!
Mind blowing, isn’t it?  That’s a lot of waste. If you don’t believe me, check out CEO.com doing the math.

Sure you guys had a great year, but how much better and easier could it have been without so much waste?

It’s not all bad news though Jim – I may have a way that you can help ACME Corp avoid the ‘crappy meetings’ epidemic.

It’s called The Meeting Facilitator Canvas and it’s designed to simultaneously cut down on unnecessary meetings  and make the necessary ones much more productive and collaborative.

Lets get on a call and talk about how meetings are working in ACME, how much they are really costing and what you can do about it.

In the meantime, why not download the Meeting Facilitator Canvas from https://amazemeet.com.

Thanks,

Mike & Violeta
Co-founders – Amazemeet.com


All characters – except Mike and Violeta (we are real) – appearing in this post are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Featured image by purpleslog (Attribution)

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.