I was participating in a meeting of the senior leadership team of a leading technology company. The leaders were discussing important strategic and operational topics that are critical to the future of their business.
At some point, I looked around the table and at least 50% of the leaders were looking down at their smartphones, probably responding to emails or something like that. In fact, throughout the entire meeting, this was pretty much the case. This is not an isolated dynamic for this team or company. It is pretty much the norm in most or all meetings of most teams and organizations.
From time to time the CEO would stop the flow of the conversation, put his foot down, and ask everyone to get off their phones in order to fully be present in the debate. At times he even expressed frustration with this people’s lack of attention to the conversation. However, nothing seemed to really change. The leaders would lift their heads up for a few moments, they would say something like: “I am listening and fully participating…” which, of course, was complete baloney because no one can be fully present in two important conversations simultaneously, only to go back to emails when the debate went on.
It was exactly the same in another larger meeting in another company with more than forty managers. However, every time one of the participants spoke in an authentic way, with passion from their heart, whether an authentic expression of frustration, fear or enthusiasm, it shifted the mood, spirit, and attentiveness of the entire room instantly. Everyone stopped all side activities, raised their eyes from their devices to the person speaking, and fully listened and were present to what was being said.
In one instant, when the group was discussing how to bring to market a new service, one of the managers who was an introvert yet highly respected stood up and expressed her frustration about the fact that for the longest time she had single-handedly handled this service without the support of her colleagues. In fact, she expressed her experience of “having felt alone for a long time…”. As she was speaking the room turned silent. Everyone was fully attentive in the moment in this rare and powerful conversation. After she completed and sat down others started to stand up and share their authentic feelings too. Her authentic expression gave others the courage to do the same and the meeting became much more authentic and powerful, with fewer distractions and focus on emails.
I have witnessed many similar examples of strong group attention and engagement in meetings and conversations when people showed the courage to share their genuine feelings about things like: “uncertainty about the future”, “fear of failing” and “excitement about a new direction”.
It is a known fact, that if you want to enroll, engage and/or mobilize people to any cause speaking from your heart in an authentic way makes a bigger difference than lecturing, preaching or scolding. I have learned this as a parent too.
In a corporate environment courage and authenticity are rare, but when they occur they transcend seniority and authority. In other words, even the most junior employee speaking the truth about a challenge or opportunity with courage and authenticity can make a bigger difference than a senior manager who says all the right corporate things. I have seen it many times.
So if you want your meetings to be more effective and powerful, and your people to be more present and engaged give people plenty of opportunities to express themselves, and most important – encourage, promote and recognize courageous, authentic expressions and conversations.