It was getting close to lunchtime and the people seated around the table, the CEO and seven of his direct reports, were clearly getting antsy. But it wasn’t because they were hungry. In fact, they’d been eating snacks all morning, mostly out of boredom.
The COO was at the front of the room, talking through slides projected on a screen. The conversation was primarily one-way, with the COO explaining and, when necessary, defending his work.
Finally, when we broke for lunch, the CEO took me aside and told me what we all already knew: “This is a waste of time.”
When you bring a senior leadership group together in a room, it’s a massive commitment of resources. The hotel and food are the least of it. Even the consultant, if you’re using one, is a negligible cost compared to the investment of monopolizing the focus of seven or eight highly compensated, time-starved leaders.
Yet how often do those meetings consist of one presentation after the next, while the executives listen numbly or answer emails under the table? How often does the conversation involve everything but the big issues that need executive attention?
With all that brainpower around the table, the focus of a senior meeting needs to be conversation, controversy, even conflict – not updates. Leaders should never sit and read together. They should be engaging and struggling with the organization’s most critical and difficult-to-solve issues.
So how do you get there? By creating an environment in which leaders are real, vulnerable, and brave with each other. An environment in which they can expose their weaknesses, break through silos, and engage one another with challenging questions, thinking, and decisions.
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