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Rarely is “having meetings” a core business purpose. Yet meetings are a fact of life in almost all workplaces.

How many times have you been in a meeting and thought about better ways you could be spending your time?

Sometimes there is no substitute for the one-on-one interaction that takes place in a meeting room. But in many cases, there are plenty of suitable alternatives, and people resent meetings that waste their time.

One survey of 182 senior managers found that nearly two-thirds said meetings kept them from completing actual work. An astonishing 71% said meetings were “unproductive and inefficient.” Perhaps that’s because so few businesses train leaders in when to use meetings and how to run them effectively.

Make no mistake: running a productive meeting is an important element of good leadership. Here are the things that outstanding leaders to do ensure meetings don’t waste the most valuable commodity of all, which is time.

They Make Sure Each Meeting Is Necessary

Great leaders make sure that when they hold a meeting, the meeting is absolutely necessary. They answer questions like, “Could this be handled by email?” with an emphatic “No.” If every leader took a few minutes to make sure every meeting was actually necessary, professionals would waste a lot less time.

They Invite Only People Who Need to Be There

The right number of meeting participants depends heavily on the type of meeting. The true leader knows everyone’s roles and responsibilities well enough to determine exactly who needs to be at a given meeting and why they need to be there.

They Have a Clear Agenda for Each and Every Meeting

The agenda-free data dump is almost always a waste of time. A successful and productive meeting is called and planned based on a clear agenda and a clear time estimate. Participants know what the agenda is and why they are being asked to participate.

They Use Techniques That Ensure Participation

Meetings need participants, not spectators.

Meetings don’t need spectators. They need participants. Excellent meeting leadership ensures that attendees participate. They may employ simple techniques like conversational turn-taking, or designate time for people to work individually and in increasingly larger groups. But they make sure everyone who has taken the time to attend the meeting participates and benefits in some way.

They Start on Time and Stay on Track

One of the easiest ways for a meeting leader to alienate attendees is to start late or ramble on about irrelevant topics (last night’s baseball scores, for example) rather than getting on with the purpose of the meeting. Likewise, they use their agenda to ensure they stay on track and don’t wander off on tangents. They diplomatically keep participants from straying off-track too.

They Don’t Use the In-Person Meeting as Default Mode

Finally, strong leaders don’t need to use meetings as the “default setting” for handling business. They are well-versed in all communication methods available to them and use them appropriately. Direct phone calls, conference calls, emails, and even group chats can take care of many issues so that when people are invited to a real meeting, they know it’s an important use of their time.

Leadership coaching teaches (or should teach) leaders the immense value of people’s time (including their own). Unnecessary or ill-planned meetings waste time – time that cannot be recovered. Sometimes there is no substitute for being in the same room and exchanging information with people face to face, and in these cases, meetings can be the best use of time.

When leaders take the time to really think about what they want to accomplish and the best ways to go about doing it, they often realize that their best bet is something other than a traditional meeting. When they have the communication skills and time management skills all strong leaders should have, they can lead their teams to impressive accomplishments without the need to herd everyone together without a really good reason.

Leadership is, of course, about much more than meetings. Fundamentally, it is about empowering teams to reach goals by ensuring everyone has the tools and support they need to put their skills to the best use. If you want to explore all the key dimensions of Intelligent Leadership, I encourage you to check out my books, including my latest book The Intelligent Leader.

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