"Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it." ~ Henry Mintzberg
"When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen." -Ernest Hemingway
OK, so you’re scheduled for a meeting with your boss. Maybe it is a regularly scheduled one-on-one, maybe your boss called it, or maybe even you called it. When meeting with your own leader, it is essential that you get as much out of it as possible. Your time with the person who should be mentoring you in the organization (whether they actually are or not) is some of the most valuable of your week or month. Too many of us pass ownership of the outcomes of the meeting to our boss, and that hurts our ability to get the most out of the meeting. So what should we do?
Prepare – First and foremost you need to handle the basics to have an effective meeting. What questions will your boss have and what data will they want to see. You need to have answers prepared and data in a presentable form to not only show you are on top of it, but also to speed the meeting along (remember, this time is valuable so you want to get as much out of it as possible). If no one is providing one, it is essential that there be an agenda to keep everything focused and to ensure everything that needs to be covered is covered.
Know what you need – This goes along with preparing, but it is the #1 thing people miss when meeting with their boss so I’m giving it its own section. A successful meeting is collaborative and all parties should be able to leave having received what they need to move forward. If you haven’t already set down what you need out of the meeting then you are basically just taking whatever you are given. This is the opposite of taking control. What things do you need clarity on regarding your performance? What answers do you need regarding projects? What approvals do you need to move forward? Be sure to write down all of the things you need out of the meeting (they can even be line items on an agenda).
Be future focused – Yes, you need to give updates on progress, but you want to keep the discussions focused on what to do or what you are doing, not what has already been done. Too many times a meeting digresses into an analysis of past events without any purpose behind it. It is fine to look at what was done if you are trying to use the learning for a specific future purpose, but our vision needs to be on the future. Great meetings always have action plans for what to do once the meeting adjourns.
What they say isn’t set in stone – You don’t want to be argumentative or defensive, but you also don’t want to be passive. If your boss has given advice or direction you think is wrong, then say so. Just be sure you can back up what you say with data and facts. It’s better to prevent an issue from occurring, than to deal with it after the fact. Remember, a good meeting requires all parties to be involved. Now while many of you may say that your boss isn’t interested in your feedback, I would say that if you pick your battles you can hopefully avoid some foreseeable difficulties. I have had plenty of bosses like this in my career and all of them conceded some points to me during meetings.
Be clear on what they need – Ever left a meeting and realized you weren’t clear on what your boss needed you to do? Of course you have because all of us have faced this issue at some point or another. I always like to do a little rundown at the end of any meeting where we quickly go through the action items from the meeting. This is a great time to ask that additional question to get clarity.
Don’t run long – You want to get the most out of your time with your leader, but you also need to be respectful of their time constraints. This is why an agenda is so critical because it allows you to stay focused on what needs to be covered. It also allows you to prioritize the order of things. It is often perfectly fine to not cover everything as long as what is left over is OK to be handled at a later time. One of the best ways to never get a meeting with your boss is to not respect their time and their schedule.
Keep these principles in mind when scheduled to meet with your boss and I’m sure that you will BOTH get more out of your time together.