Saturday, October 20, 2012

Want to Make an Important Meeting Successful? Work With the People who Could Become Detractors

In all the works I've read about American presidents, one of the most common touched-upon themes is the approach these leaders took to preparing for vital meetings at which great decisions were expected to be made. Whether Lincoln convened his cabinet in preparation to discuss the secessionist South, Teddy Roosevelt brought together organized labor leaders before trying to settle disputes, or Lyndon Johnson gathered powerful Congressional leaders ahead of the Senate's debate about a civil rights bill, a common approach to working with the important decision-making attendees of important meetings was to conduct constant one-to-one, face-to-face talks that happened days before the meetings actually got started.

These American leaders spent hours visiting homes and offices of the individuals who would be pivotal for making a larger and more formal meeting successful. The tete-a-tetes were customized to address the concerns of the major "players" before these players could have the opportunity to voice concerns aloud in a more public forum. I've taken my cues from these leaders.

First, I identify the people who I think will have the most to say. These are the people in my eyes who will do the most talking and be the "loudest" at the meeting. These people will not be afraid to speak their mind and will likely be very articulate in their presentation.

Second, I schedule meetings with these individuals a week prior to the meeting. I don't like to talk with them too early because I want our conversations to be fresh in their minds when we get together in the larger group. I like to have these meetings on their turf. I schedule the one-to-ones in their classroom or in a conference room at their school.

I make my positions about the topics to be discussed clear to the individuals with whom I speak during the one-to-ones. I want them to know ahead of time what they will hear from me. I use these intimate discussions as the forums in which those with whom I am speaking can raise their concerns. The most important outcome of these individual meetings is the resolution of any disagreements that arise because of the stand I tell them I will take on a decision to me made.

The one-to-one meetings are not intended to stifle what should be an open and honest discussion when the larger group meets; rather, I "work" these aggressive players ahead of the group meeting so that I may soften the blow that could detract from the important committee work that has to get done. Like Johnson and other powerful American leaders, I do the legwork necessary beforehand to make an important larger-group meeting successful.

This post is part of the "Leadership Lessons From American Presidents" series.

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