For many executives, stepping up into the C-suite can be daunting.
There is a larger sense of responsibility. A higher set of expectations to meet. A raft of weightier decisions to make. A greater level of competence to demonstrate. There is a big step up, one which must be made quickly.
This is often accompanied by a sense of doubt. A propensity to question yourself and your capability. Uncertainty creeps in and you find yourself hesitating before acting, speaking, or deciding. All of it rocks your confidence.
Nowhere is this more prevalent in the leadership team meeting. You are now surrounded by people who used to lead you. People who you still look at as your superiors, usually with more skills, knowledge, and experience. Now they are your peers. You’re expected to operate at their level. To provide a valuable contribution to the leadership of your organisation. But can you?
The last thing you want to do is open your mouth and be proven a fool, or incompetent or say something that isn’t adding value to the discussion at hand. Whether you’ve heard it said before or not, you’re likely to follow the wisdom of the ancient proverb that says, “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.”
Or as one of my clients put it, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t have anything valuable to add, so I just stay quiet.”
If you’re not confident you can add value at the executive level, in front of your peers, you won’t contribute. Yet that’s exactly what you’ve been asked to do; it’s what your leaders, your people, and your organisation expect from you. They need it from you.
So, what’s the solution?
FOCUS ON THE PROCESS
Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know whether you can contribute, or you doubt the value of any contribution you might make, shift your focus from making your own contribution to facilitating the contribution of others. If you can facilitate the process of the engagement from which value is derived, you facilitate the value that is generated.
By facilitating the process, you provide more value than contributing to the process.
In a leadership meeting, the value of the meeting is found in the collaboration between leaders to solve problems and make decisions. Therefore the greatest contribution anyone can make is to facilitate the processes of collaboration, problem-solving, and decision making. You don’t necessarily contribute to collaboration, problem-solving, or decision-making, but you facilitate the contributions of your peers to each of these. In doing so, you facilitate what is valuable. In doing so you add value.
It is a bit like the conductor of an orchestra. They don’t make music themselves. They facilitate all the other musicians working together and playing in time; helping coordinate the strings with the brass and the winds with the percussion.
How might you ask?
By asking questions. Meetings, whatever their focus, are based on interaction and conversation. By asking questions you prompt the interaction and stimulate the conversation.
Ask others to table their opinion and share their perspective. Ask your peers to clarify their statements so everyone is on the same page with the same understanding. Ask whether all constraints have been taken into account or whether all options, impacts, and consequences have been considered. Progress the discussion to the next stage of the process and ensure all action items are assigned to individuals with appropriately intentional questions.
The great thing about this approach is it provides you the opportunity to learn from your peers. Whenever you ask the question, you learn from the answers, whilst still adding value. The more you learn, the more value you add, the greater your confidence grows over time.
GROW YOUR CONTRIBUTION
One of the reasons many meetings elicit frustration from those in attendance is that there is no clarity on the processes that underpin effective collaboration, problem-solving, and decision-making. Either there are no defined processes, the processes aren’t understood, or they aren’t followed.
If you’re joining a new leadership team as an executive, find out if there are defined processes. If there are, study and master them. If there aren’t, then introduce a process. You don’t have to stand up and dictate a particular process to the team – that’s not going to do you any favours as the junior member. Simply ask questions that follow a process.
One of the most useful processes you can use is the GROW model.
You may recognise GROW as a coaching model, used to facilitate coaching conversations. While this may be its primary use, its applicability goes far beyond coaching individuals. It can be used as a planning tool, a debriefing tool, or a meeting agenda. Importantly, it’s an excellent process to follow for problem-solving and decision-making.
By simply asking questions aligned with each stage of the GROW model, you facilitate the conversation moving through the process toward effective solutions, decisions, and outcomes.
You might ask questions such as:
- Just so I’m clear about what we’re all working towards, what is the outcome we are after?
- What are the most important considerations and constraints relevant to this issue?
- What are all the different options we have? Are there any we haven’t considered?
- What are we committing to as a team? By when?
By asking questions like these, you focus the contribution of others on what is most important and keep the team moving towards finding solutions, making decisions, and generating the value leadership team meetings create. You may not have confidence in your ability to add to the problem-solving or decision-making (yet), but by facilitating the contribution of others, you add the most value possible. Practice this art, and in time confidence will come.