I once worked on an engagement where the president of the company flew in for the monthly steering committee meeting. He would schmooze the client, take them out to lunch, and assure them of their importance to the firm.
And that was true. This was one of the largest engagements we had in the firm. This was a very important client.
We had many consultants on the project. While some were offshore, more than half of them were in the same building in which the steering committee took place.
The first couple of times, we convinced the president to meet with the team. We felt it was important for the president of the company to give them some of his time and say thank you in person. They worked hard and we thought it would be a good morale boost.
It was. The team felt good meeting with the president of the company. They liked being thanked.
We did it again the second month he was in town. Once again, it made the team feel good.
On the president’s third visit, we suggested meeting with the team. He demurred. “They don’t seem to like it.” He said. “Nobody asks any questions. It’s just awkward.”
It’s true that nobody said much in these meetings. Many of these people were lower level team members. Some were just a few years out of college. They’re also technical folks. Many of them are more comfortable writing code than dealing with people. Many were probably a little intimidated by him.
Regardless of their response, they enjoyed meeting with him. That twenty-minute exposure to the brass made them feel appreciated. It made them feel important. Many went home and bragged to their spouse about meeting the president of their company.
The president continued to fly in every month for the meeting. But he never met with them again. The team members knew that he was on site. They knew he didn’t meet with them. We tried to explain that he had an early flight for some other meetings. But they still felt blown off.
These meetings made the president feel awkward. There was uncomfortable silence after he thanked them for their work. He missed the point though. That meeting wasn’t designed to make him feel comfortable. It was designed to boost morale. The meeting was about the team members, not the president.
Leaders have two jobs
I’ve seen many examples of this from people in leadership positions through the years. A leadership role is really two jobs. One job is the day-to-day work that has to get done to achieve the organization’s goals. Reports need to be reviewed. Meetings need to be attended. Decisions need to be made.
The other job is the leadership part. A leader has to make sure people are happy and motivated. A leader needs to communicate the vision repeatedly to make sure everyone is working in lockstep to achieve the organization’s mission.
If a leader only focuses on the daily task work, but doesn’t take time for leadership, they really can’t claim to be a leader.
Long term effects
Time management experts talk about the difference between important and urgent tasks. When we prioritize our to do list, we tend to focus on the urgent issues, putting the important tasks on the back burner.
The here-and-now forces us to be tactical. Leaders need to look forward strategically to make sure that the organization is going in the right direction.
Does your organization have the right skills to compete in the future? Time should be spent assessing that concern. If it doesn’t, how will you deal with it. It could involve training of your existing staff. You may need to bring in the right people with the necessary skills. It may require some of both. But neither will be addressed if you don’t take time for leadership.
I’ve worked for leaders who avoid communication with lower level folks. Leaders are busy people. They don’t have time to answer every question from every person in the company. That’s what the chain of command is for, right?
But when someone talks to you, it doesn’t take that much time to listen to them. If you look at your watch every thirty seconds and do whatever you can to end the conversation, it sends a message. The message is that you don’t care about the concerns of someone in the organization that serves you.
It’s common to have a monthly or quarterly meeting to communicate updates to the team. In consulting, team members are often scattered about at various client sites. This periodic update meeting is a rare chance for consultants to feel a sense of a home base. It’s a chance to catch up with people they don’t see often and to hear what’s new within the firm.
There are many reasons for management to cancel a meeting like this. There are a thousand other commitments. A meeting like that takes a lot of time to prepare for.
But when they do cancel that meeting, the consultants miss a chance to connect with the firm. Regardless of the reason the meeting is cancelled, many will immediately assume the worst. They must be avoiding the announcement of bad news.
Communication is important within any type of organization. It’s even more important within consulting firms. When people are spread out at many locations, they need the connection that communication provides.
Meeting in person is important. If that can’t be done, a weekly newsletter providing critical updates allows people to at least know what is going on. It’s not the personal touch, but it’s better than nothing.
People in leadership positions are busy people. They need to do everything they can do to keep the lights on. But they also need to take the time for leadership. They need to be focused on the future and make sure they are navigating the ship in the right direction.
The people in the firm want to be led. The personal touch of a brief meeting and saying thank you means more to them than most leaders realize. Communicating regularly with your staff can make a world of difference in their effectiveness and their level of morale.
How often do you take time for leadership?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
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