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A Harvard Study Reveals 1 Change that Will Make Any CEO More Effective

Want to get more done as a leader? Address the “M” problem.

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BY Sunny Bonnell - 12 Jul 2018

Want to Be a Great Leader? Learn From the 25-Year-Old Soccer Coach Trapped in a Thai Cave for 3 Weeks

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

At Motto I consult with a lot of leaders, but whether their companies have 1,000 employees or 10, they all feel like there aren't enough hours in the day to run the show the way they'd like. According to a brand-new Harvard study, they're right.

The study, called "The Leader's Calendar," invested 12 years of exhaustive fact finding to confirm what most of us already knew: CEOs have lots of resources but not enough time. If you run an organization, you get that. You're working nights and weekends and giving up any shot at a social life, but it always feels like there's more to do, right? Well, thanks to the good people at Harvard, we know what to blame.

Meetings. Buried in the data is the bombshell that the average CEO in the study spent 72 percent of his or her time in meetings. Seriously? Even Harvard doesn't believe that more meetings equals better business.

Just last year, Harvard Business School researchers surveyed 182 senior managers about the value of meetings, and 65 percent said meetings keep them from completing their own work, 71 percent said meetings are unproductive and inefficient, and 62 percent said meetings harm team togetherness. Ouch.

In other words, meetings suck. But you already know that. Sure, it's important and sometimes even enjoyable to get the team together from time. You catch up, connect, strategize, laugh, and even bond. But let's be honest, you also:

  • Waste the 20 minutes before the meeting not doing any work, because why start something when you're going to have to stop?

  • Fritter away the first 10 minutes getting coffee, getting settled, and repeating what someone else already said.

  • Spend half your time checking your watch because you have another meeting right after this one...and then another one after that.

  • Fret about everything you're not accomplishing while you're in a meeting you really didn't need to be in.

Advice on changing meetings is usually the same: have an agenda, make sure everyone comes prepared, make meetings shorter. But if those worked, executives wouldn't still despise meetings so much. I have a better idea: Stop having meetings.

Extreme? Maybe, but hear me out. I'm not suggesting you never meet with your people. Just stop meeting with them like you have been: everyone sitting in a freezing conference room, grumbling about how much later they'll have to work because of this wasted hour. Instead, fight to protect your time from "meeting creep."

1. Hold "flash meetings."

Everybody on the team gets a text: "Quick huddle in the parking lot in 10." There's no time for prep and no expectation of it. Everybody shows up, what needs to be said is said, and the whole thing is done in 10 minutes.

2. Brainstorm in public.

Meet at Starbucks? Yes. Research into the "coffeehouse effect" has shown that a moderate level of background noise (like the hiss of the espresso machine) improves performance on creative tasks. Trust me, nobody cares about your new app; they're all working on their novels. Plus, caffeine! Hooray!

3. Ban PowerPoint.

In fact, ban all technology. No phones, projectors, any of that nonsense. Just talk, listen and take notes. Nobody's paying attention to your slides, anyway. They're speed napping.

4. Send a surrogate "court reporter."

How many meetings really require the presence of the CEO? Just say no. Instead, send someone you can trust to take concise, contextual notes--not on everything that's said but on the important things that were said and what they mean. You can always follow up later in person.

No travel for meetings.

If you're a startup, you can't afford the cost of traveling for meetings, and the people who want to meet with you should understand that. So unless the meeting is make-or-break for your business, there's this thing called a phone. If the other party insists on face time, suggest FaceTime.

 

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