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Articles for Leadership » The Real Deal

Teach Them How to Deal With You

by Rand Golletz

Note From Rand

I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving, and that you actually gave thanks. Feeling and expressing gratitude for the people and circumstances of my life has always been a challenge for me; I work on it daily. Someone once said to me: “If you want to be grateful for something Rand … check your pulse!”

My column this month cites a lesson that I learned at a company at which I served as a senior executive. It was humbling for me and will hopefully be instructive for you. I think you’ll enjoy it.

As we enter the holiday season, try to remember those who have fewer resources than you do. Develop the habit of giving your time as well as your money to organizations that lift people up. I have learned that because time is our only non-fungible resource, spending it on causes that matter to us is both a symbol of sacrifice and a source of great satisfaction. Giving money when you have a significant amount of it is less so!

Happy holidays! I’ll see you in January. As always: Get real, get tough, and get going!

Teach Them How to Deal With You

I had just joined a Fortune 200 company in an executive level job. In the past when joining a new company, I had always taken time and great pains to figure out the culture of the place. Then I moved deliberately but cautiously in integrating my approach to leadership, the culture of the organization, and the challenges that I faced. I saw no reason to change my approach in this instance.

The company had a reputation for being somewhat bureaucratic. As people who have worked with, for, and around me can attest, I do not have a bureaucratic bone in my body. If anything, my approach has always been this: There is no rule that shouldn’t be broken! The years (and getting my a** kicked) had mellowed me somewhat, so I knew that I was facing a challenge to “throttle back.”

My first few weeks in my new position were uneventful. I met with members of my team individually to get to know them. As had been the case in previous companies and jobs, I used these discussions to get an initial sense of people’s “context” – who each was and how each became that person. I also ventured to understand each person’s “triggers” – what conditions evoked his or her best. I’ve always found that doing this is really valuable as long as it isn’t employed as a “technique,” as in “they’ll really like me if they think I care about them.”

I also learned a lot about the company’s processes and procedures, including the informal ones. I found one to be particularly disturbing. Here’s the story:

Senior executives get invited to a lot of meetings. If you are an executive at a medium size or large company, you relate to that. At this company, I got invitations to meetings very much like the following: “There will be a meeting next Wednesday, December 8th at 2pm to discuss the xyz project. Absent a declination, your attendance will be expected.”

What?!

I have an aversion to useless meetings. I have an aversion to people showing up unprepared for meetings. I have a bigger aversion to showing up for meetings unprepared, MYSELF. I don’t like the word “discuss” to describe what will be accomplished at a meeting. I prefer words like “decide,” “solve,” “plan,” and “inform.” The last sentence in the aforementioned meeting invitation is the killer, though: “Absent a declination, your attendance will be expected.”

I was receiving about twenty meeting invitations a week that were worded similarly to this one. Presumably, the person doing the inviting in each case not only expected a demurral if I wasn’t going to attend, he also expected that I would provide a reason for not attending and a replacement person to attend in my absence.

It’s little wonder that this company had a hard time making decisions and taking action.

My solution to the problem was to ignore these meeting invitations. I didn’t go; I didn’t send anyone in my place; I didn’t respond.

After doing this for about a month, I got a call from the CEO asking me to discuss the matter of my absences with him. I obviously obliged.

A man of impeccable manners, he had a way of listening intently to absorb what was being said. I shared the details with him that I shared here. When I finished, he said the following: “Rand … I get it. I don’t expect you to attend useless meetings. I don’t want people here to conduct and attend useless meetings, so you’re off the hook.” I stood to leave, and he added the following: “One more thing Rand: Some of these people have been doing this, this way, for a long time. We have a lot of bureaucracy to weed out here. How did you expect that they would know about the ‘Golletz Rules of Meeting Attendance’ without being told?”

I felt like I had been hit in the face with a 2×4. Of course people had no way of knowing my expectations. I had never told them!

The CEO continued: “Do me and the company a favor Rand. Use this as an opportunity to educate our people about the why, when, what and how of meetings. The next time you get a meeting invitation, which will probably be today, explain in a collaborative way your conditions for meeting attendance.”

I did just that. For the next couple of weeks when I got a meeting invitation, I responded with several questions. Among them:

• What was going to be accomplished?
• In order to accomplish that, was my attendance necessary or could a member of my staff attend?
• In either event, what preparation was necessary for the attendee to make a contribution?
• What will be the finish time of the meeting?

In about 50% of the cases, the person didn’t respond to my questions, and no one from my team attended the meeting. When I did receive a response, I (or the member of my team who would attend) was better prepared to contribute. An unanticipated bonus: I also got invited to fewer meetings.

The most important and long-lasting result of all of this was the lesson that I learned. We have to teach people how to deal with us. We have to inform them of our “conditions of satisfaction” in advance to enable them to productively interact with us. This lesson helped me be a better leader, a better mentor, and today, a better executive coach.

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