How Drama Can Revitalize Your Meetings

Be honest with yourself—when a meeting invite pops into your inbox, do you have a visceral reaction? Do you groan inside and start immediately thinking of excuses to get out of it? Or do you get excited about the topic and start planning your talking points? If your answer is the former rather than the latter, then you are most likely suffering from the all-too-prevalent “death by meeting” syndrome. In that case, it may be time to add a little drama.

In his book Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable About Solving the Most Painful Problems in Business, business leader and author Patrick Lencioni advocates for a revolution in the way executives run meetings in the workplace. He reminds us of the vital importance of meetings and communications for the well-being and innovation of a company and advises teams to revitalize their meetings through healthy conflict. Surprising counsel, but effective.

Lencioni likens meetings to the plot of your favorite TV show or movie. Without hooking us in from the very beginning with intrigue and drama, we lose interest immediately. Likewise on a workday, if a meeting does not intrigue us from the get-go or hold our interest for very long, we zone out and lose valuable time. How can we add drama to a meeting? Lencioni talks about “illustrat[ing] the dangers of making a bad decision, or highlight[ing] a competitive threat that is looming.” To sum up, give the participants a reason to care and tune in.

Conflict in meetings is not always an easy undertaking. It helps to remind all meeting attendees beforehand of the shared goal and objective of that conversation. Also set parameters that require mutual respect and define each participant’s role in that meeting. In an article (registration required) aptly entitled “What Is an Effective Meeting?,” McKinsey and Company define four principal meeting roles: decision-makers, advisers, recommenders and execution partners. With clear roles, meeting parameters, rules and objectives—key ingredients for a successful and productive meeting—the path is cleared for healthy conversation and debate.

A bit wary of adding conflict into meetings? Worried that conflict might spill over into other aspects of the office culture? Honoring my love of Italian food, I’ll use a cooking analogy to explain how to keep the drama contained in those meetings.

Imagine you are throwing a dinner party and making spaghetti—a large amount of it. If you use your four-quart pot, the spaghetti is going to spill over the sides and make a mess that you’ll have to clean up. It will spill over the pot, drip down the sides of the stovetop, between the cracks of the counter, and fall on the floor, where the dog may step on it and track it all over the house. It may create a mess that takes hours to clean up; it may even be impossible to completely wipe up every drop of spilled tomato sauce. The same thing happens when you use your eight-quart pot. Now imagine making pasta with the extra-large 12-quart pot. The pasta does not spill over. It is contained. You still have a mess to clean up, but it is contained. All the pasta sauce and remnants of spaghetti stuck to the bottom of the pot are easily removed and cleaned so that it can be used again for the next dinner party.

Meetings with specific parameters, well-defined roles for participants and a clear goal act as that 12-quart spaghetti pot. Within the four walls of that meeting, it may get a bit messy with lively conversation and a bit of drama that will revitalize the company. And once the meeting is over, the “mess” is easily cleaned up.

In business, as in life, tough decisions need to be made. Healthy debate is the best way to make well-informed decisions and innovative choices. Try utilizing Lencioni’s drama-driven strategy paired with clear meeting parameters, and you may find renewed energy and enthusiasm when the next meeting invitation arrives in your inbox.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes

How To Start Using The Power Of Storytelling In Your Personal Brand

Storytelling is a powerful component of successful commercial brands.

The compelling movie Air delves into the fascinating backstory of Nike and Michael Jordan. We associate Apple with Steve Jobs and his innovative drive. Starbucks is the success story of a man with a vision to reshape the coffee experience in America to replicate European coffee houses.

Nike. Apple. Starbucks. These companies all evoke strong and sometimes emotionally driven images and stories in our minds, cementing them in our memory.

The same goes for personal brands. For example, internationally acclaimed author J.K. Rowling’s tale is that of a rags-to-riches woman who penned her first novel in a café and persisted against rejection after rejection before climbing to the successful heights she has reached today.

By understanding the power of storytelling, business leaders can utilize the same concept in their own personal brand. The Harvard Business Review article “A New Approach to Building Your Personal Brand” explains that “your personal value proposition becomes more memorable, resonant, accessible, and persuasive when you convey it with stories.”

Once you have a clear vision of the type of executive presenceand reputation that you would like to cultivate, start putting together personal stories and anecdotes that support those key components of your brand. These stories need to be true and authentic and not too overtly self-promotional.

Think about where you might share these personal stories with others. In the boardroom? During a business presentation? Over a cup of coffee in the break room? At the happy hour of a company conference? There may be a certain type of story that you can share in a professional setting versus the type of humorous or witty anecdote that you may want to provide at an informal social gathering. However, these stories must work toward conveying the identity and value of your personal brand.

One of my clients was hired to lead a team during a particularly rocky time in the company’s history. One of the values that she embodies is perseverance. Knowing that she needed to gain her employees’ trust to guide them through the company’s challenges, she started collecting stories from her personal life that support her ability to overcome obstacles. At a team social hour, she recounted the time her colleague left her laptop in a taxi in Mexico the night before a major presentation and their escapades to recover the lost computer just 30 minutes before the big moment. Throughout the first few months in her new role, she told other stories with the same subtle message that she can overcome adversity and help others do the same. Her strategy worked, and she gained the trust of her team.

If marketing and self-promotion are not your strong suits, gathering these personal narratives may not be easy at first. Think about the key values of your brand and start jotting down relevant anecdotes. You do not have to share them right away, but starting to gather them is the first step. Once you have several written down, start classifying them by where you may be able to share them and in what context. If this prospect seems daunting, try working with a business confidante or a leadership coach to work through the stories.

Authentic storytelling is a fantastic way to convey your values and further your reputation. With a handful of stories in your back pocket, you have cultivated a powerful way to represent yourself to the world. If told well, these anecdotes will resonate with your audience and increase the value of your personal brand. So what is your story?

This article has previously been featured on Forbes

The Art Of Approaching Difficult Conversations

Difficult conversations are an inherent part of our personal and professional lives. One of the key challenges individuals face when engaging in such discussions is maintaining objectivity. It is human nature to anticipate negative outcomes or assume the worst in others, especially when the topic is sensitive. However, by adopting a mindset of empathy and open-mindedness, we can transform these challenging conversations into opportunities for growth, understanding and resolution.

The first step in planning for a conversation is to identify the goal and desired outcome. Knowing your goal can help you keep the discussion on track and stay objective.

Empathy is also a powerful tool for a positive outcome because it enables us to step into the shoes of the other person, understand their perspective and acknowledge their emotions. By doing so, we can create a safe space for authentic dialogue. Instead of assuming the worst, we can seek to understand the underlying motivations, fears or concerns that may be driving the other person’s behavior.

Embrace Empathy

A few years ago, one of my clients—let’s call her Rachel—had to address a team member’s consistent underperformance. Initially, Rachel harbored negative assumptions about the team member’s laziness and lack of commitment. However, through our coaching sessions, she learned to approach the conversation with empathy. As a result, Rachel discovered that the team member was dealing with personal challenges outside of work, causing their performance to suffer. By understanding and offering support, Rachel not only resolved the issue but also built a stronger bond with her team member.

In this conversation, she learned that open-mindedness is also essential when faced with difficult conversations. Keeping an open mind allows us to suspend judgment, question our own assumptions and genuinely listen to the other person’s perspective. By approaching these conversations without preconceived notions, we create space for alternative viewpoints and collaborative problem-solving.

It is very easy to fall into the trap of approaching a conversation already feeling defensive—with your armor up, ready for a fight. Unfortunately, starting a conversation in this way can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you approach a person with defensive body language and anticipate harsh words, then your conversation partner will probably pick up on that vibe and most likely put on their own defensive gear quickly. When both people are closed off and defensive, the conversation will not be a pleasant one.

Be Curious

My friend Sarah once had to address an incident where a team member had missed a critical deadline. Frustrated and assuming incompetence, she confronted the culprit and demanded to know what had happened. The co-worker was surprised and, perceiving a verbal attack, turned defensive. He began gruffly explaining, and too late, Sarah discovered that the team member had encountered unforeseen technical difficulties beyond his control that led to the delay. After that, she had to work hard to rebuild trust and rapport with that person. She learned that she had to approach future conversations with curiosity and a genuine desire to understand. Had she given the team member the opportunity to explain, she might have been able to provide support and find a collaborative solution that prevented similar issues in the future.

Most leaders make these types of communication mistakes before mastering the art of approaching difficult conversations. We have also learned the importance of providing the other person with an opportunity to respond without jumping to conclusions or assuming negative intent. Allowing the individual to share their perspective fosters a sense of psychological safety, encourages open communication and prevents misunderstandings. By actively listening and seeking clarification, we create an environment conducive to meaningful dialogue and resolution.

Mastering the art of approaching difficult conversations objectively is a skill that can transform both our personal and professional relationships. By embracing empathy, cultivating open-mindedness and providing space for response, we can navigate these challenging conversations with grace and effectiveness. Difficult conversations, when approached with the right mindset, offer opportunities for growth, strengthened relationships and improved outcomes.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes

3 Strategies For Investing In Your People

The success of any organization is directly tied to the skills, abilities and knowledge of its employees. Therefore, it’s essential for business leaders to invest time and resources in employees’ professional development.

Workers who are given opportunities to gain experience and grow are more likely to be engaged, motivated and committed to an organization’s goals. Additionally, when employees have the necessary skills and knowledge, they’re better equipped to handle the challenges of their jobs, leading to increased productivity and profitability for the company.

As a business leader, here are three specific ways that you can support your employees’ professional growth and development.

1. Provide Opportunities For Training And Development

When you give employees the chance to learn new skills and knowledge, they tend to feel more valued and, in turn, more motivated. In my experience, the best way to optimize training and development is to present options. For example, during a time of low morale within his team, one client of mine asked each employee which professional skills they wished to develop. After answering, they collaborated with their supervisor to research individual training opportunities and use allotted work hours to develop their skills. Not only did morale improve, but the team thrived with new expertise that helped contribute to the quality of the work they were doing.

Consider the options you can offer your teams to help them gain new skills and knowledge in their field. One strategy is organizing in-house sessions or sending employees to external training programs. Depending on specific needs, these training programs can cover anything from technical training to soft skills coaching. You could also offer access to learning platforms, books and courses or allow time to attend workshops, conferences and seminars. Encouraging continuous learning will not only help employees stay updated on the latest trends and technologies in their field, but it will also demonstrate your company’s dedicated commitment to their professional development.

Building off that, employees who see a clear path for career growth within the organization are more likely to be engaged and committed to their work. As a business leader, provide opportunities like promotions, cross-training and other chances for advancement. This benefits your organization by retaining talent, reducing turnover and attracting new hires who value the potential for career growth.

2. Create A Mentorship Program

By creating a culture of learning and sharing knowledge, business leaders can foster an environment where employees feel supported and invested in. One strategy for this is implementing a mentorship program that pairs developing employees with experienced individuals in their field. These mentors can offer guidance, feedback and support so employees are better equipped to reach their goals.

I’ve seen the power of mentoring. While serving on the board of a national networking organization for women, we developed a program to help support younger professionals. In just a brief period, we witnessed immense growth in confidence and motivation in the mentees.

The relationships and honest conversations that mentees have with their mentors can help them better navigate corporate environments and the sometimes-challenging situations that an office culture provides. With a guide, they can begin feeling more equipped to succeed. Mentors can also benefit from this kind of program. At the networking organization, for instance, a majority of the mentors said they felt a sense of accomplishment and pride in their own careers. Being able to impart their wisdom to others can help experienced employees realize the true wealth of information and knowledge they possess. It was a win-win for everyone.

3. Bestow Regular Feedback And Recognition

Finally, engaging in regular, constructive discussions about performance is essential for employees’ growth and development. Business leaders who offer specific feedback and recognition can help build a culture of continuous improvement and create a sense of belonging and engagement.

Of course, it’s key to personalize your praise. Saying “Job well done, team” is what I consider a “drive-by compliment,” and it doesn’t make the biggest impact. Instead, take the time to thank individuals or small groups for specific tasks and contributions.

Smart leaders know the value of investing in their employees’ professional development. With strategies like encouraging continuous learning through training and development, offering opportunities for career growth, creating a mentorship program and providing regular feedback and recognition, you can help employees grow and succeed.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes

Successfully Leading A Team You Did Not Pick

If you spend a long time in a company, over the years, you may have the luxury of hand-picking your team from the ground up and intentionally leading a group of people who complement each other both personally and professionally. However, most leaders are brought in to run a team that has already been selected by their predecessor.

Taking over a team that you have “inherited” can be a challenging situation to navigate. You may be unfamiliar with the varying personalities and how they work together. However, with the right approach and strategies, you can find success in managing a group that you did not personally hire.

The first step is to build rapport. Try to get to know each team member on a personal level. Take the time to have one-on-one meetings with everyone and ask them about their interests, goals and challenges. This will not only help you understand each person’s unique perspective but also show them that you care about them as individuals.

Another way to build rapport is active listening. Giving your undivided attention when others speak and asking follow-up questions to show that you understand their point of view is a key skill. By doing so, you can create an environment of trust where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns with you.

During this “getting-to-know-you” phase, you might discover unique and varying temperaments. Successful management requires understanding each person’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their communication and work styles. This is where assessment tools can come in handy. For example, I often recommend the DiSC assessment to my clients. This evaluation helps to identify team members’ behavior and communication preferences so you can tailor your management style to meet their needs.

After working through the evaluation, you may find that team members who are more introverted may prefer to work independently and may not be as comfortable speaking up in meetings. In those cases, scheduling one-on-one meetings with them to ensure they have a voice in the decision-making process can be beneficial. On the other hand, if you have others who are more extroverted, they may thrive in group settings and desire more opportunities to collaborate with others.

Conflict resolution is a vital management skill when conflicts arise from a team with diverse personalities and preferences. To be a successful leader, you need to address these conflicts head-on and work to find a resolution that works for everyone. Listen to both sides of the conflict, acknowledge each person’s perspective and find a compromise that meets everyone’s needs.

While building rapport and taking on conflict resolution are key steps to getting settled in a new team, setting clear expectations is also imperative. Individuals within the group may feel a sense of uncertainty regarding their roles and responsibilities. It is your job to clarify these expectations and ensure that everyone is on the same page. This means outlining goals, defining roles and responsibilities and establishing a timeline for completing tasks.

Taking over a team that you have “inherited” can sometimes be a daunting task. However, with the right approach, you can build rapport and manage differing personalities and preferences. By getting to know everyone on a personal level, actively listening to their ideas and concerns, addressing conflicts head-on and setting clear expectations, you can create a team that is motivated, engaged and productive.

When you create an environment where each person feels valued, supported and clear in their role, you ensure the success of your organization.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes