Average leaders use meetings to pass on information. Great leaders use them to engage and inspire. To run meetings the best way possible, follow a few simple rules:
Don't dish out.
Too many executives use meetings as just another opportunity to relentlessly push rules, policies, details, and tasks down their team members' throats. These "dish out" leaders mean well, but their force-feeding style can make employees feel disrespected and unappreciated. I've seen leaders lose their entire teams this way, as people flee the unit or the company altogether.
In fact, that happened to me. When I started my first company, I held staff meetings just to demand things. I was stuck on barking out orders, not listening. I was also quick to anger and expected everyone to know what I was thinking.
It's little surprise that my business fizzled. No one felt safe to offer ideas or challenge my assumptions. Our meetings were showcases for my ego, not opportunities to share best practices. Worst of all, these meetings killed people's passion for what we were all about. Instead of leaving excited to sell our products, they left -- as one employee told me -- "walking on eggshells."
Some well meaning leaders fall into a different kind of "dish out" trap: killing people's passion not through fear, but through boredom.
Working in sales, I've been stuck in hundreds of meetings in which we were all instructed to speak for two minutes each about the state of our efforts. It meant sitting through seemingly endless minutiae like, "I'm supposed to have a lunch meeting with so-and-so."
Even if you don't nod off, your mind definitely goes elsewhere. You leave the meeting feeling like all your energy has been zapped.
Do focus on relevance.
After my first business ended and I worked my way up at other companies, I committed to running meetings well. I got humble and learned. Now, at my current company, our meetings are so worthwhile and positive that people don't want to leave.
The chief reason is that I always ask myself this: What will make this meeting relevant to everyone in a way that increases productivity? The only topics that we tackle in these meetings pass that test. Everything else belongs in other forums -- one-on-one discussions, emails, etc.
Determining what's relevant for a meeting isn't as simple as it may sound. For example, it means digging deep into your team's process, not just its outcomes. Gathering your team to say "we need to do this better" or "we need to sell more" is useless. But when you first take a good hard look at your team's process, you discover the specifics to focus on. For example, what are the most common weak points in your sales pipeline? Is it prospecting for the right customers? Increasing revenue per customer? Meetings that offer helpful lessons on how to fix specific challenges can get your team excited.
I've been able to measure the results, seeing a spike in prospecting and conversions after each of these events -- which happen only when necessary.
Do build participation.
Have team members who rock at these specific skills lead the meetings. That way they have a chance to hone leadership skills as well. Over time, find ways for everyone on your team to teach at some point during one of your meetings so they all feel like participants rather than spectators.
It's also helpful to bring in outsiders to deliver quick talks. They may be experts who can share best practices as well, or people who are simply passionate about what your company offers. One of the greatest meetings I ever experienced came when my bosses brought in a customer who was a big fan of our product. He explained to our team why it made his job better, and how it enabled him to increase his business. It made me think, "This is the conversation I want to have with other customers." It inspired me. It gave me a sense of "swagger" that our product was every bit as great as we wanted it to be.
This same idea works with bringing in an investor, as I did at a recent board meeting. After he spoke, our advisers went from being mildly interested to asking, "How do we help you do what he just said?"
Doing meetings right requires taking the long view. In business, it's easy to get shortsighted -- especially with monthly, quarterly, and annual quotas. Organizing useful meetings means pulling yourself out of the daily grind. But it's worth it. If I hadn't done this, I wouldn't have employees who are invested in the process and I wouldn't have a thriving business.
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