Senior leadership meetings have become rather predictable. Individuals take turns in justifying why they haven’t yet been able to move Heaven and Earth to meet their promised targets. They prepare their defence, ready for an attack from even more senior leaders as to why they haven’t been successful. In turn, the bigger cheeses in the room, already expectant to hear of said failure, listen with jaded tolerance. From here on in, the meeting is all about ‘keeping up the act’. The person responsible for delivering pretends the target is completely possible, maintaining a professional façade of optimism despite their sizeable doubts. The boss also pretends that success is likely. In truth, they know it’d be something short of a miracle, but rather than offering support, they press their subordinates harder, coldly expectant of the miracle-plan. Sitting as judge and jury. If you’re preparing a case for your next meeting, maybe you need to stop and call time on this crazy ‘dance’. It’s time to stop justifying and start talking in your meetings, for everyone’s sake.
The real mischief at play here is the self-fulfilling prophecy; we’ve already decided how the meeting will go. Rather than meetings being a place for collaboration, honesty and solving problems together, they have become showcases of our professional alter-egos. Since when did saying what is really going on become so unprofessional? Or holding our hands up and asking for help without getting a hard time? It seems that to stay ‘professionally-correct’ we need to be verbal samurais who can make an excuse sound convincingly like we’ve actually delivered the goods.
Indeed, no one is exempt from being in the dock when it comes to defending their performance. Even CEO’s find themselves answerable to the board, and the pressure to maintain an impeccable image is passed down the chain.
So why are we all so scared to be brutally honest in meetings? And why would our most senior leaders be allowing the pretence to continue? Perhaps it is simply that it’s safer to all be in the same boat, believing each other’s charade, than to tackle the reality of an impending missed-target head on. What’s ironic, is a brutally honest conversation about the prospect of failure, is the same one that births the ideas and support needed to realise success. If we could all get over looking so damn professional and instead get real, we might achieve something truly exceptional.
In principle, we’ve all signed up to this notion and the idea of taking a risk is nothing new. We have heard echoed in the values of our organizations; ‘we need to make mistakes acceptable’, ‘we need to take risks’, ‘we need to collaborate’. It is surprising then how few organizations really live these mantras.
Imagine a world where you really could say how likely you were to achieve your targets and when you needed a serious dose of help and input from peers and seniors alike. It might start to feel like we’re all working for the same side. Plus, meetings would be about progressing things forward rather than reflecting on the recent past.
It is a leap of faith to step out of our cosy comfort-zone where calm denial and professionalism are sometimes indistinguishable. However, it is the organisations and leaders who really can be themselves, warts and all, that will ultimately outperform the rest. For it is through honest, bold conversations that agility, resilience and achievement are realised.
For your next meeting, rather than preparing a case on what has passed, prepare to share concerns and make requests about the future. Seek support and collaboration from the great minds around you versus trying to impress them. You may not get to feel like the polished professional; never wavering in their convictions. But you may actually get the job done and earn respect for who you really are in the process.
Ask yourself; what am I really committed to achieving in this meeting? Making genuine progress or looking good in front of the boss? What would happen if I was to share my vulnerability? What ground rules could we establish to make this ok?
For many of us, delivering against our targets and appearing capable is core to our being and feeling successful. Let’s then be authentic in our conversations to enable and coach everyone to achieve this versus being the judge and jury.