Meetings that Made History: 5 Lessons to Learn from the Headlines

Stories about famous and infamous meetings contain lessons for all leaders.

Whether you love them, hate them, or have one of those awkward relationships with them, meetings are where the action is. From business to politics, meetings reveal where a team’s true power and priorities reside.

That’s why every year the news is full of meetings. 2019 was no different. Here are just a few that made the news, and the lessons they can teach us.

1. You can opt-out of meetings. It isn’t always easy.

In July, President Trump met with the major U.S. airline CEOs. Except for Delta’s CEO, who declined the meeting to go on a family vacation. President Trump was not happy. Naturally, President Trump shared his displeasure with the press.

Did this decision damage Delta significantly? I can’t speak to that, but I bet this wasn’t the story Delta wanted in the headlines. I’m a big advocate for making meetings optional. But even when that’s your policy, opting out requires fortitude and a readiness to deal with the consequences. 

2. Is it important for your business? Get in the room. 

We’re falling out of love with big tech companies and as a result, they’re coming under increasing attack. So while Delta’s CEO may have declined a meeting with President Trump, the CEOs of Facebook, Apple, and Twitter were just a few who arrived promptly for their private audiences with the POTUS. If your reputation is on the line, be sure to show up.

3. A failure to pay attention is a failure to lead.

Most reports about government meetings concern backroom dealings and political jockeying. But earlier in July, a report surfaced claiming that U.S. Secretary Ross frequently slept through meetings and as a result, his staff considered him “fairly irrelevant.”

What’s the one thing all leaders have in common? Followers. As Secretary Ross helped us all see, when you can’t meet well with the people you’re meant to lead, they no longer believe you’re worth following.

4. Want to improve employee engagement? Require weekly one-on-one meetings.

Technology and startup business leaders have praised weekly one-on-ones for decades, mostly by sharing anecdotes of what they’ve found personally useful in their companies. This year, Cisco shared research that proves one-on-ones are more than a good idea. 

When Cisco team leaders check-in with team members every week to offer support and work through priorities, they see a measurable improvement in both engagement and overall performance scores. Now, Cisco uses technology to ensure team leaders in over 15,000 teams adopt this high-value meeting practice.

5. How you meet both creates and reflects your culture.

Many of the articles about meetings describe the meeting practices of business luminaries to illustrate the way those leaders and those companies work. 
A few 2019 examples:

These are all positive examples meant to show how these companies stay productive and innovative. But recently, the headlines are full of another kind of example. This November, CEO Sundar Pinchai announced that Google was canceling their weekly all-hands meeting

The all-hands ritual started when Google was a small, scrappy startup as a way to ensure transparency and inclusivity across the company. Most companies run some form of all-hands meeting to keep employees informed and help everyone connect to the company’s larger mission, but it’s unusual to hold them this frequently when companies get big. 

If Google’s all-hands still worked the way they did when the company was young, that would be an amazing testament to the strength of Google’s inclusive culture. Of course, Mr. Pinchai didn’t cancel the meetings because they were working. 

In recent years, the company’s culture changed. Google employees have leaked company internal information to the press. Loose lips sink ships, as they say, but some Google employees no longer feel the need to safeguard that particular ship. Employees are also increasingly viewing the all-hands meeting as a forum for airing concerns over corporate policy. 

Whether or not you agree with the employees and their actions, you know that the decision to cancel the weekly all-hands meeting makes a clear statement about the current state of Google’s corporate culture. 

The lesson?

This a perfect moment for all of us who lead teams and companies to pause and reflect. What does the way you meet with your teams say about your culture? And as you go into 2020, what might you change to make those meetings a powerful example of a culture you’re proud to call your own?

This content was originally posted here: