One of the biggest challenges facing leaders today is meeting fatigue and the epidemic of unproductive meetings. When you ask any leader about their calendar these days, the response is often, "My calendar is unmanageable." It's not just back-to-back meetings, but sometimes two or even three meetings happening at a time.

Some leaders find themselves juggling multiple screens and logins, taking multitasking to the next level, but is it really?

In my own corporate experience, I spent hours upon hours in meetings, but I had an executive assistant who could help protect some small slivers of time each week on my calendar. 

Navigating the Meeting Maze

With the ever-increasing speed of change and the rising expectations for urgency, how can leaders be at their best? They plow through the day, switching contexts like crazy, leaving little room for actual work…or leadership!

As companies require their leaders to bring new thinking to the table, keep up with emerging trends and technologies that significantly impact strategy, and lead differently to meet the new expectations of a post-COVID workforce, leaders struggle to find a moment for a bathroom break or lunch.

Of course, we all have the opportunity to hold ourselves more accountable for our own time, our most precious resource. I've recommended and walked leaders through tools like the Eisenhower matrix, "start/stop/continue", and time tracking. These excellent approaches enhance focus, prioritize tasks, and manage time better. However, we've reached a point where companies need to more actively support their leaders in these efforts and in breaking the meeting culture.

We can delve into what's holding us back from setting boundaries or saying no. Still, it's less effective if leaders aren't provided with encouragement or examples of how to do this.

I've spent the last three weeks with three different clients in three states, discussing various leadership topics. The common theme that emerged across all these leaders' experiences and occupied the minds of everyone I spoke to was TIME — specifically, finding time on their calendars to do more: more of what's expected, more of what their teams need, and more of what makes them feel fulfilled and alive.

Leading with Intention in a Time-Starved World

How can I find time in my day to lead ...and lead like I really want to? The desire to lead with intention is there, but stepping off the hamster wheel and making that desire a reality is incredibly challenging.

Shopify recently confronted this problem head-on by installing a calendar app to track the number of hours spent in meetings and their associated costs. By simply being aware of this data, they are on track to save $322,000 in meeting time costs in the first year alone.

During a discussion and facilitated brainstorming session about strategic priorities this week, one of my clients decided to focus on meeting and email overload as a strategy in itself! 

Sometimes, awareness is all that's needed to drive change. Leaders are crying out for help as they feel conflicted, unprepared, and unsupported in giving their best in today's workplace. If we ask leaders to lead differently in this ever-changing world, organizations need to do something different to support them and their teams in this endeavor. 

Support them in pushing back, support them in changing the trajectory of where we're headed, and support them in prioritizing the true value they bring to the table.

Practical Steps to Combat Meeting Overload

Here are four actions to consider in the fight against meeting fatigue at your organization:

  1. Survey your organization to gather facts: Conduct a comprehensive survey across your organization to quantify the extent of meeting overload. Ask employees how many meetings they attend regularly and how valuable they perceive them to be. Gather insights into common pain points and frustrations related to meetings.
  2. Implement technology to track meeting time and costs: Leverage technology solutions similar to Shopify's approach to track the amount of time employees spend in meetings and calculate associated costs. This data will provide valuable insights into the financial impact of meetings and highlight areas for potential optimization.
  3. Establish meeting-free zones in your calendar: Encourage leaders to designate specific time blocks in their calendars where no meetings are allowed. These meeting-free zones provide leaders with uninterrupted periods to focus on critical tasks, engage in strategic thinking, and prioritize their most important work. This practice helps prevent burnout and fosters productivity.
  4. Implement Meeting Purpose and Agenda Guidelines: Encourage the adoption of clear meeting purpose and agenda guidelines within your organization. Require meeting organizers to define a clear purpose for each meeting and share a well-structured agenda in advance. This ensures that meetings stay on track, focused, and result-oriented, reducing unnecessary meetings and time wastage.

What other ideas do you have to help leaders dig out of the meeting culture of today?

If you are ready to navigate these challenges and invest in your leaders, let’s connect.

I recently had an opportunity to host a leadership development session with an impressive leadership team in Chicago. When they gathered together for our custom workshop, it was the first time they had all been in the same room in two years due to Covid-19 and what transpired in the time that had past gave significant importance on the development of the leader as learner.

David, the CEO, worked with me to create a customized goal and topic for this leadership development workshop. He asked me to introduce strategies and tools to help his team be more open to new ideas, to “rethink” the way things had been done before, and to be curious problem solvers, decision-makers, and leaders. Based on these goals for the team, I curated an extremely relevant topic for leaders today – “Are You Learning as Fast as the World is Changing?

Seeing the Leader as Learner

To prepare for our session, I asked the team to read Think Again by Adam Grant. This helped them feel equipped to dig deeply into the concept of rethinking

The key point of our session was this: In a world that never stops changing, leaders can never stop learning. 

I helped the leadership team embrace their role as continuous, curious learners by questioning common responses to their current actions and situations. We interrogated the validity of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” to see that just because something has been done a certain way does not mean it can’t be done differently. 

Change-capable leaders must grow and evolve with the world. The leader’s job is constantly learning – rethinking current policies, questioning current responses, and investigating new potential solutions.

When your talent embraces their role, leader as learner:

The Importance of Interpersonal Connection

David, the CEO, and I also developed another important objective for this session: allowing people time to reconnect with each other.

We spent a little less time “doing” and more time “being.” This time was crucial to the team – allowing them space and energy to renew their commitment to the organization and their roles as leaders.

The face-to-face time we prioritized brought up many interesting conversations, including:

These discussions helped the leaders better understand their peers and themselves. 

Our custom session – focused on seeing the leader as a learner – was a perfect mix of learning and applying new concepts AND time sharing about what work and life look and feel like in today’s environment.

The Role of Soft Skills in Leadership

Not everyone will be able to keep pace in a constantly changing and demanding world and business environment. 

Really smart people are studying the “future of work” and reporting that 10% of jobs will be automated in the next year, and 50% of jobs will be automated in the next decade. Specific requirements must be met to survive and thrive in the present and near future.

Successful leaders of the future must be proficient in these 3 soft skills:

1 | Balance between doing & learning

How much time on your calendar is spent doing vs. learning? Finding the right balance between current business demands and continuous learning is hard. The fast-paced environment often distracts leaders from their best, discouraging them from being curious, innovative, active, and engaged learners.

Leaders are often head down, trying to manage customer demands, fire drills, and simply keep up. Given this reality, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of learning. But if you want to be successful long-term, it is especially important to practice continuous learning. The leaders who will thrive are consistently, intentionally learning.

2 | Intention

As leaders progress and advance in their careers, they become less comfortable learning. Not knowing something, asking questions, being curious, and reaching out to experts require them to be brave.

Not knowing the answer to a question does not make a leader unintelligent. However, not asking and not learning something new because they are afraid will cause leaders to miss on many beautiful opportunities. The access to knowledge is there, but as they get further along, they have to be even more intentional about learning.

3 | Active Listening

Active listening is a key to learning. It is essential to listen to the thoughts and perspectives of people from different backgrounds to rethink our own perspectives, biases, and judgments that keep us opening up to other perspectives and from learning. By listening more deeply – and not just responding with the first thought that comes to mind – we can respond more intentionally. This kind of mindset helps encourage a culture of learning and an environment for others to learn, share thoughts, and allow their ideas to flourish.

Developing Your Team of Leaders as Learners

Are you and your employees ready to develop soft skills for the ever-changing future world? 

If you’re interested in ensuring your team is growing and adapting to current and future demands, contact me to create and facilitate a custom leadership development session

Your team will love digging into the topic “Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?” and your entire organization will benefit from this targeted, intentional development.

Tricia Manning © 2024 All Rights Reserved.
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