It’s the time of year when strategic thoughts are heightened. Leaders think about strategy and there’s a pretty good chance if you haven’t had one already there will be a strategic meeting just around the corner. Be honest, when you’re staring at that strategic meeting invite, you’re not all that excited. Strategic planning meetings do not always create raving fans. Instead of an outburst of exuberance, you are more likely to roll your eyes and yawn.
The dismal response is not hard to diagnose. People enter meetings with low expectations. They don’t believe a strategic planning meeting will lead to positive change. They don’t believe planning will make any difference. They expect an initial buzz and then everything will settle back into the same old routine. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Strategic planning is not going away. Although, there are many new and creative ways to collaborate with team members, I don’t expect strategic meetings to disappear. So, what can you do to move the response to meetings from apathy to excitement? Recently, I engaged in a strategic planning meeting at our home office in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was a great experience. After the meeting, I reflected on four things that make a difference.
What is the heartbeat of your meeting? If your meetings are boring, you need to scratch beneath the surface agenda. Is there a heartfelt connection to the direction of the company and do the people who have the responsibility for moving the company forward share a heartfelt connection with each other? The vitality of your meeting depends on the heartbeat.
Your deepest desires will shape your willingness to work together to create a better future. When you possess a common foundation, you will find ways to unite and pursue your vision. You will embrace positive accountability because it sustains momentum toward the things that matter. Your conversations will not dance around surface issues. You will move quickly to deeper expressions of significance and purpose.
Strategic leaders capture hearts first and then minds. As I sat in our strategic meeting, I noticed that we had a common heartbeat. It was much deeper than acquaintances, job experiences, skills and knowledge. I was seated in a room with people with who possessed the same heart and passion for a compelling vision to transform leaders.
Heartfelt connections create community. When you attend a meeting and you feel a deep connection to other people and the mission of an organization, you are much more likely to invest in strategic discussions. There are many ways to describe team members who have developed a sense of community. They speak of their co-workers as “family.” They speak of “we” far more than “me.” The vision is the centerpiece of discussion. This sense of belonging produces lively debate in strategic meetings because members are invested in producing the best answers.
Employee engagement is a hot topic. Too many leaders attempt to mandate collaboration. But, authentic engagement cannot be mandated. You cannot legislate healthy trust. Both are a natural outgrowth of authentic human connection.
During our meeting, I noticed a natural cadence of sharing, listening and caring. If you want to increase the level of commitment in your meetings, evaluate the level of authentic human connection in your culture. In a community, contribution is not based on seniority or title. Each team member is willing to engage because every person is valuable. Everyone belongs at the table.
Consider your feelings about meetings. In general, meetings can be painfully boring. Think about the last mind-numbing meeting you attended. Boring meetings lack energy and vitality. They are dead.
Nothing breathes life into a meeting like story. Stories are life giving. The best strategic meetings are infused with a compelling narrative. The story pulls you in like a magnet and reinforces what is important. Metrics and scorecards are important, but story translates words and numbers into human connections. Individually and corporately, the story gives voice to who we are and how our actions contribute to who we are becoming.
As I listened to individuals share stories in our meeting, I was amazed how our stories enriched our vision. Individual stories were thoughtfully woven into the story of the company. Our connection with each other deepened. Stories foster empathy and increase our collective capacity for leadership. Stories connect us to each other and help us see what is possible. Instead of a lifeless list of “next steps” our responsibilities are relationally charged with anticipation and hope.
Nothing kills a meeting like a lack of curiosity. The loss of curiosity is masked by a certain level of smugness – certainty creeps in and silently robs your energy and passion. You focus more on what you know rather than what has yet to be discovered. Certainty of outcomes or the lack thereof shuts the door on creative collaboration. Far too many meetings begin with a dearth of curiosity.
Without curiosity, your mind will close the door and the “meeting room” will become stale. Curiosity keeps the air fresh. It will open the windows for fresh ideas and perspectives to circulate. The best strategic meetings embody openness. As I engaged in spirited discussion with a room filled with creative and talented people, I became more and more curious. I became more open to possibility and more committed to my role in pursuing our vision.