Part I: Where’s the Boss? Driving Results in a Meeting

27 February 2012 Written by  Robert Sher
Published in CEO Think: Blog

I came across this article last week in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Where's the Boss? Trapped in a Meeting” that made it sound like CEOs weren’t productive and spent large amounts of time in meetings, at lunches and traveling, with as little as six hours per week working solo.

But why are hours spent working solo an indicator of being productive? Meeting time versus working solo time has little to do with productivity. The issue is not the sheer amount of meeting time, it is whether that meeting time (or any time) is impactful in increasing the enterprise value of the firm. Every minute a CEO spends is a minute gone-by. Each minute must be invested wisely.

Mid-Market CEOs More Vulnerable

Earlier-stage entrepreneurs and small-business owners need every minute to get tasks done. Their executive team is small or non-existent, so they are not typically buried in meetings. Large businesses, on the other hand, have many highly trained executives all (hopefully) adding value to their organizations. Thus wasted CEO minutes can be offset by the contributions of all the other leaders.

But middle market companies have leadership teams that are small compared to Fortune 500 companies. In a recent survey I conducted on middle market companies (slide 17), 95% of the CEOs and 96% of those that report to the CEO agreed that CEOs have unique leadership skills and other capabilities often not found in the teams that report to them. The CEO’s leadership is needed in middle market companies, and that leadership is often delivered in powerful meetings. Every minute of the CEO’s time really counts.

Old Solutions Not Enough

Reduction of the time spent (or wasted) in meetings is not a new idea. You will likely still have wasteful meetings, just fewer of them. Setting a clear agenda going into your meeting is another piece of common advice. But agendas are often poorly constructed, discarded or not delivered early enough to be useful. Too many teams come together over and over again, on the same issues. They fail to reach a decision, or come to a decision without anyone assigned to be accountable, so the issue must be raised again.

Delegating work upward from a collaborative team approach to the CEO (“let the CEO figure it out”) isn't good either. This means the CEO invests precious time in doing the work, whereas if the work were done by the team, the CEO would only have to assess their progress and make the final judgment—a much quicker task.

Make Meetings Produce Work

Meetings must be the places where the decisions are made that require the full team's input. Those decisions should be recorded and carried out after the meeting. So we’re maximizing the CEO’s minutes—and everyone’s minutes—when our meetings are the place where we do work, where we actually accomplish things.

The “work” of executive teams includes thinking, debating, brainstorming, planning, strategizing and ultimately, making a final decision on a matter. Well-run meetings should be synonymous with “getting work done,” and not synonymous with “wasting time.” Information-only meetings should be rare and fast. Meetings should be one way of doing work, while working solo is another way of doing work. Wasting time when alone (gaming, daydreaming, Facebooking) is as bad as wasting it in a meeting.

For larger middle market CEOs, I maintain that they should spend nearly all their time in meetings if that means that they are making big decisions and handing big chunks of work to a large team of capable executives. Why would anyone want such a CEO with such a powerful team to spend more time working in isolation, doing their own research and data collection?

My next post will offer techniques to make meetings work. Stay tuned!

         In fact, now you can click here to read that post! 

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About Robert Sher

Robert Sher

Robert Sher is founding principal of CEO to CEO, a consulting firm of former chief executives that improves the leadership infrastructure of midsized companies seeking to accelerate their performance. He was chief executive of Bentley Publishing Group from 1984 to 2006 and steered the firm to become a leading player in its industry (decorative art publishing).

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