In 2006, I was elected President of the spanish chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, a volunteer-led organisation for successful entrepreneurs. Honestly, I was a mix of emotion: both proud of the honour; but nervous that I would not be capable of leading the group.
Our first board meeting was chaos. There was a paper agenda, but I failed to keep people focussed on the agreed discussions. Each board member would throw their own opinion in for every small point. We spent almost 4 hours sucked into petty administrative details. It was tiring.
I learnt over the next 3 months that my way of running meetings was not effective. It was not only that we were not agreeing and taking decisions, we each left the meeting less motivated than when it began. This was a volunteer board. If I had been one of the board members back then, I would have skipped as many meetings as I could.
“That’s it, I don’t need this crap. I am going to Quit”
I was on the verge of resigning the presidency, and of resigning as a member due to my frustration. I said to myself “I am paying for this, I am frustrated and members are blaming me for every little thing that doesn’t work out”.
I attended a training session for new chapter presidents run by a wonderful Canadian entrepreneur. She began the training “There are two types of people in this room: the first have had a mission to become chapter president for years, have conducted a campaign with a clear manifesto, bring a team and are now celebrating the achievement of a multi-year goal; the second… went to the bathroom at the wrong moment and came back to find that they had been nominated for president… and still feel that they didn’t really ask to be in the role.”
She paused while we laughed “I don’t care which is your path. But you have a clear choice to make… You can spend the next year saying that you didn’t really choose this; or you can decide to make the role your own. This training is for those who chose to make the role their own.”
She got me. I knew that I was the “bathroom-at-the-wrong-moment” president, not the multi-year campaign. I knew I was waiting for others to step up and make things fun. I knew that I had abdicated any real responsibility for the role to others. I made a decision in that moment to go for it. I decided I had nothing to lose. I had mentally decided to leave the organisation, resign my role – so there was no “risk” to me if I decided to make things run “my way”.
Over the next 2 years, I learnt how to run meetings that get volunteers engaged, proud, active and delivering big results. What works for volunteers also works for corporates, universities and professional associations.
The Golden Rule of Leading Anything
It is always the leader’s responsibility. If you lead a meeting and it is not fun, it is your responsibility to act. If somebody comes unprepared, it is your responsibility to act. It does not matter whether you wanted to be the leader or did not want to be the leader; it does not matter whether the others are older, richer, wiser, better looking, sexier or taller: your role comes with full responsibility.
If you don’t accept the Golden Rule, go play tetris or candy crush. Don’t bother with the rest of this blog post.
The 6 Item Participant Checklist for Impressive Meetings
1. Participants Felt Heard
My girlfriend is brilliant at this. I can come home and rant about something stupid that happened at work. She listens. She listens without adding her judgement. Often, my rants are idiotic. (I think she knows… She doesn’t say.) She isn’t aiming to fix me. She accepts that I am saying that I am frustrated, that something unexpected happened. After about 2 minutes of feeling heard, I realise that I am ranting and I let it go.
2. Participants Leave Energised
An hour of talking about problems is not an engaging hour. What inspires us? Big dreams. Great locations. People’s life stories. Progress. Celebrating small wins. Recognition of good efforts. A big bureaucracy trades in problems. A volunteer organisation trades in the gift of people’s time.
3. Participants Leave with New Perspectives
John D. Rockerfeller, the richest man in the world back in the 1850s, was famous for his ability to look like he was almost asleep in a meeting… and then suddenly sit forward and ask a question that changed the whole dynamic of the discussion. A meeting leader is not the one with the best answers, a leader is the one with the best questions.
4. Participants are Proud to be Part of the Team
What teams are you proud to be part of? Teams that stand for something. I am proud to be a member of Barcelona Football Club. I love the values of teamwork that I see displayed on the field. I am proud to be part of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation because I am encouraged to dream bigger, to contribute more deeply. I am proud to be part of teams that are encouraging individual members to be the best version of themselves.
5. Participants Have Access to Necessary Resources
I had an interview back in 2005 with Sequoia Capital for a role leading the European division of a global insurance claims processing company. The founder explained their golden rule: if somebody fails to achieve a goal, we place 90% of the blame with their boss. There are only 3 reasons why somebody fails to achieve a goal: 1. they were not clear on the goal (bosses fault) 2. they didn’t have access to the resources necessary (boss fault) and 3. they were not motivated (50% their fault, 50% boss fault).
6. Participants Have Desire to Deliver on Specific Actions
Two parts to this one: desire and specific. Nothing is a greater waste than giving a vague action to a person who sees no purpose to the action. As a leader, you must work to help people see how they personally and professionally can benefit from the action. As a leader, you must work to ensure that the individual understands exactly what success will look like and how they can take the steps necessary.
The Choice you Must Make, The Golden Rule
Whether you became leader by deliberate action or by accident; whether you conducted a multi-year campaign or left for the bathroom at the crucial moment – you have a choice: wait for a magically sign from the sky or take responsibility now to change things that you do not love. The Golden Rule: If you don’t like it, remove it, change it or step down as leader.
Featured photo credit: Stéfan via flickr.com