Leadership Tip 15: Reward Meeting Behavior You Want to See

You need a senior person at a meeting. The meeting is supposed to start at 2 pm. The leader strolls in at 2:15.

When leaders act this way, they show their power. When I've asked why the person is late, they often say, “I had another meeting that ran long.”

While that's what occurred, people make meaning from a senior leader being late. Without using words, the leader says:

  • Your work isn't that important to me. My previous work was more valuable. (Which it might be!)
  • I'm not willing to delegate my decision about this issue to you. I don't care that you are dependent on my presence to make a decision.
  • Because I ask you to “catch me up,” I don't care that I have created delays in your decision-making.

Does that seem harsh? It might.

Note: Before you judge a person's intent, you might want to ask why someone is late to your meeting.  When you do, you might learn new information. That information might change your behaviors. To be honest, the person might not have thought about the effect of their actions.

You can always decide what to do.

Possible Responses When People Arrive Late to Your Meeting

While I'm not perfect (!), I try to be congruent, to balance how I feel about myself, the other person, and the context. That context includes the other people and the decisions we need to make in the meeting.

First, prepare for the possible late arrival. In the agenda, say something like this:

  • “We will decide on these items. If you can't make it and don't let us know your preferences <several hours> in advance, I assume you are fine with our decisions.”

Next, assess your options. Here's what I've seen:

  • Restart the meeting to “catch” the person up.
  • Ignore the leader and continue.
  • Explain that you and your colleagues will make the decision yourself. You might even say, “Thanks for coming. You can leave now.” (Yes, I have said that, nicely!)

Which of these options do you choose, and why?

I never restart the meeting to catch the person up. Instead, I might:

  • Dissolve the meeting.
  • Remind the person of the decisions and ask, “Do you have new information for our decisions?”

If the person agrees with how we will make decisions and does not offer new information, I often say, “Thanks for coming. We're okay with deciding on our own.” I then wait for the person to leave.

Yes, I did this back when I worked inside organizations. Hmm, that might be why I'm a consultant now.

Choose Congruence

Whatever you do, choose to be as congruent as you can. Avoid placating the senior leader. When we placate leaders, we allow them to create our dependence on their decisions.

Instead, set a context where you and your meeting colleagues can make decisions without needing the leader. You might want to show them a value stream map for this decision: See Why Minimize Management Decision Time.

This tip is the flip side of Leadership Tip 14: Reduce Other People’s Dependence on Your Decisions. This tip is mostly from Practical Ways to Manage Yourself, with a little from Practical Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization.

This is a part of the series of leadership tips.

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