Recently, I had an extremely important work meeting with a couple dozen people on the call. The meeting was tricky and the content delicate, all the more so because of the limitations of meeting virtually. The team spent hours developing the content, refining it, honing it, and coordinating across lots of stakeholders to get everyone aligned.
My wife was aware of all of this, and knew the meeting was important to me. Since I'm working at home, she was in close proximity while it all was happening. When I signed off and told her excitedly that the whole thing went perfectly and I was incredibly excited, she looked at me, puzzled. "That was the important meeting?" she asked. "You hardly said a word the entire time!"
That was a huge source of pride for me, and perhaps the greatest compliment I could have received. Early in my career, I always tried to be the smartest guy in the room. To prove that, I was always trying to control the conversation, sometimes to the point of speaking over others. I thought the way to get what I wanted was to talk more than I listened, and that there was some secret score being kept of whether I was showing my brilliance by expending as much effort and talking as much as possible.
I now recognize there is no greater joy as a leader than making my team look amazing for a job well done. If you want to experience this bliss, here are three things I suggest you try:
1. Focus on the preparation rather than on the meeting itself.
If you focus on making sure everyone is aligned and orchestrated before going into the big event, rather than trying to muscle through that misalignment in real time, you'll be amazed at how much easier things go.
2. Play a game with yourself.
Can you get to the outcome you desire with the minimum amount of focus on you? How can you elevate teammates and subordinates so that they are the point people, saying the words and taking the credit for the outcomes?
3. Silence is golden.
Resist the urge to show everyone else how smart you are by jumping in and "knowing the answer." See if you can find ways to nudge others to come around to your point of view themselves, rather than trying to overpower their perspective (which tends to only create resistance anyway).
There's one important nuance to all of this, which is that you aren't abdicating responsibility to make the right thing happen, and if it goes wrong the buck still stops with you. This isn't a way to blame your subordinates when things don't go well. As the great basketball coach Dean Smith used to tell his players, "If you do what we ask you to do, the victories will belong to you, and the losses to me." Let the victories belong to your team, and take the losses on yourself.
The result is usually a much more efficient process, but even more important, it empowers and develops your team so that they build the muscle of ownership and accountability. By subordinating your ego, you'll set a powerful example for others to focus on what the company needs and not your own sense of self-importance.