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Barry Salzberg

Barry Salzberg

Barry Salzberg is CEO of Deloitte, LLP. He also is a member of Deloitte’s U.S. Board of Directors, the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Global Executive Committee, and the DTT Global Board of Directors.

Asking the Right Questions

After thirty years of meetings, my first question is always "Why?" Why does this topic require a meeting? Now that I'm a CEO, I have learned to ask a second question: "Why me?" Why does this meeting require the CEO? And not from some inflated sense of importance.

For me, the deeper issue is time, and how we value it, both as an organization and as individuals. Even in our virtual age, meetings are of deep human importance--in fact, perhaps more important than ever when people spend so much time peering at pixels.

Done right, meetings bring people together, achieve clarity and agreement, and they get big things done. But still, for leaders at any level, the first question should be why? How will this meeting respect and reward people's time? Could it be done virtually? Or could the organizers simply send a presentation and ask for input? And why the CEO? Might another leader be more appropriate?

In answering this question, I suggest two critical filters: Is the meeting of strategic importance? And--equally important--is it of human importance, say, in strengthening a relationship or clarifying an understanding?

If a meeting is scheduled, and I agree to attend then, bottom line, my advice to the meeting creators and all participants is arrive prepared. Set the agenda and objectives. Give me and other participants pre-read materials. Come meeting time, assume that we all will have read it. Please, let's not get lost in the slides. Instead, let's all engage in real peer-to-peer dialogue. And when we finish, let's come away with clear follow-up actions, each with an owner.

We've all been there, staring into space, waiting for the slide-show extravaganza to end. Enough. Let's be mindful of how we spend our time. And respectful of how we spend the time of others. As Peter Drucker once put it, "Effective executives... start by finding where their time actually goes."

By Barry Salzberg

 |  October 6, 2009; 10:10 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Meetings are about more than making a decision, strengthening a relationship or clarifying an understanding. They are about leadership. Employees need to see their leaders to hear and challenge them. And the leaders need to listen (perhaps most important of all). This might be considered "building a relationship" but most executives neglect this aspect of their job because "they don't have time." Well, leadership takes time, and a CEO has to be ready to deliver -- especially in tough times like we face now. I point to no better example than General Eisenhower in the six months prior to the Normandy invasion. No executive could have more demands on his or her time than Ike. Between January and June 1944 he worked 16-20 hours a day (he took only one off -- April 4). His "Board of Directors" -- Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin -- couldn't have been tougher. And the stakes were high. People were going to die because of decisions he made. Yet, he spent nearly 25-percent of his time in some formal contact with frontline troops -- you might call them meetings. That did not include the time he spent on public appearances and media broadcasts, or impromptu visits with soldiers. Sometimes, as it was true for Ike, no one else can fill a leader's shos. When that's the case, a CEO has to suck it up and make it happen. That's what separates the great leaders from all the rest.

Posted by: Bmatha | October 7, 2009 9:56 AM
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