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Before I Can Become An Effective Leader

By Ron Miles, PCC

Thousands of books have been written about leadership. In a recent 10 year period 17,800 management journal articles were written about leadership. However, for many people, the first question is not, “How do I become an effective leader?”, but,” Who am I and what do I do with my life and career?”

In Mastering Leadership, Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams, offer six leadership practices to become more effective in leadership. Using the first four, I’ve paraphrased them to make them more applicable to your immediate question of “who am I and what do I do”.

Life is purposeful. “First and foremost, find out what it is you’re about and be that” – Bennis, 1989.

Life is the ongoing discipline of translating purpose into a vision.

Transforming your purpose to a vision, will challenge how you think and act, perhaps in ways that are not supported by your current set of beliefs. It will require you to look internally, into the parts of yourself that are not yet ready to embody your vision – that are too small, too scared, too reactive, too controlling, to cautious, etc.


There is no safe way to be great. And there is no great way to be safe. Transformation requires courage. The courage required is not the courage required on the battlefield. You do not risk life and death, although it may feel that way at times. Mostly, the courage required is the courage to tell the truth, and most importantly to yourself.


So equipped with this information, what do you do?


Start by keeping a journal. The purpose is not so much to capture the events of the day, but to focus on your likes and dislikes. What are you passionate about? What gives you energy? What are you attracted to? What don’t you like? What zaps your energy? Practice paying attention to what your life is trying to tell you about whom you are and what you are here to be.

Create a list of MUSTS – the deepest and highest aspirations for your life. Capture your thoughts as they come. Don’t get caught up in the significance or lack of, or if it’s impossible or trivial; write it. On a regular basis review what you’ve written and refine it as you move forward. With this practice and with patience you will be able to formalize what you want your life to be.

As an example, you’ve come to realize you enjoy technical fields and have a keen interest in renewable energy. But, you didn’t complete college and you can’t afford to quit your job.


Having established your purpose, what you want your life to be about, it must be transformed in to a vision. Again, using your journal, start writing about what you want your future to look like. Make it specific enough to set your direction, drive you action and guide you on how to make decisions.

Continuing our example, your vision is to get your college degree in engineering and get a job in the renewable energy sector. Your vision becomes to complete this in three years. It’s specific, sets your direction, drives your action and guides you on how to make decisions.


As you begin to set your direction, the status quo of who you are and how you live is immediately challenged. Suddenly your current set of beliefs that are too small, too scared, too reactive, too controlling, to cautious, etc. don’t align.

In our example what’s going on inside – excited, energized, scared, self doubt, insecure, foolish, regret, etc. For some the journey begins, for you the only word to describe it is STUCK! Faced with the unknown, you linger in your safe world.


To move forward requires courage. You must start with authentic, courageous dialogue with yourself. Go back to your journal and start laying out your action plan. Pay particular attention to your emotions and feelings. Name them, i.e. I’m not smart enough (fear), how will I pay my bills (anxiety), etc, and write them down.

Then start the internal search, where are you stuck, what in your belief system have you made a truth, that isn’t.  For example the fear that you are not smart enough. The truth, you didn’t drop out of college because of grades, it was based on a need to work, the need for income.

The practice is to identify, confront, and change. It won’t always easy but it’s the only way.


In future articles we’ll address how to change our beliefs and behavior


If You Are Lonely, Call A Meeting

There is a cartoon I recall seeing: “If you are lonely, call a meeting.” Given the meeting madness of many organizations, there appears to be a lot of lonely people in companies.

People estimate they spend approximately 2-3 days of their work week in meetings. Doing some back-of-the-envelope math, and using salary data from, the weekly cost of meetings for a 10-person team is approximately $23,760. 

The question is… given the resource impact and cost, how can you quickly improve the probability of having a successful, productive meeting?

A successful meeting ensures the right people are invited and the material is presented as effectively and judiciously as possible. It is respectful of your time and enables you to contribute in a meaningful way or makes you smarter. Too often this is the exception than the norm, which put me on a quest to identify a quick process to improve the odds.

I read an article a few years ago that had four questions to ask before a meeting is called:

  1. What is the purpose — decision, information sharing or brainstorming?
  2. What is the issue…in five words or less?
  3. Who has already weighed in and what did they have to say about it?
  4. What will surprise me in this meeting?

1.       What is the purpose of the meeting?

Defining the type of meeting is a critical but often missed first step.  It guides the organizer—regarding the format, information needed, and who should be invited — and sets expectations for the participants. Typically, meetings can be classified into one of three types:

  •  Decision-making meeting: The goal is to produce a final decision. It is not the time for new information or to request additional analysis. In this meeting, you will finalize the path forward—i.e., yes or no, and if yes, how. Prepare: Brief deck or memo for pre-reading (e.g. less than 10 slides).
  • Information sharing meeting: Here the meeting host means to share new, interesting, relevant facts and figures. There is no call to action and no preparation on the part of attendees required. Initially everyone but the presenter is in listening mode; once the presentation is complete, the presenter asks for questions of clarification. Prepare: Short deck or memo (11- 25 pages).
  • Brainstorming meeting: Perhaps the most anticipated but difficult meeting where you expect to generate ideas via a working session. At this phase, data synthesis is incomplete and report content is a work in progress. Ideally, everyone should be involved in the back-and-forth.  Prepare: Varies depending on lifecycle of the project.

2.       What is the issue…in five words or less?

To quote William Shakespeare, “Put your discourse into some frame.” One of the biggest skill gaps is the ability to conceptualize the problem or frame the issue.  Start your next meeting with a quick exercise, have each person articulate in five words or less what you are trying to solve. If you get inconsistent answers or long replies there is lack of clarity on why you are meeting.  By clearly articulating the issue, you will get a good idea of the information you need, the people you should talk to and will ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.

3.       Who has already weighed in and what did they have to say about it?

This gives your meeting request credibility. Assuming you talked to the right people and perhaps secured stakeholder feedback and support in the process, it makes it easier for those attending the meeting to engage in the dialogue. It also exposes if you missed inviting a key person or if there are interim steps you need to take before meeting.   It reduces revisiting existing conversation and moves the dialogue forward.

4.       What will surprise me in this meeting?

Surprises are wake-up calls to your brain. Surprises are bias killers. People want meaningful dialogue and want to hear new information. Asking “‘what is surprising” in a meeting will spur new discussion and uncover fresh learning. The secret to uncovering these answers is to apply a prism to the discussion in a meeting. Just as a prism separates a light into parts, the question “What surprised you?”’ serves as a prism to separate meaningless information to expose new learning from relevant numbers. The reason is simple: The question exposes outliers in the data, draws connections between seemingly unrelated conclusions and opens new avenues of discussion with your colleagues.

Finally, a word about meeting duration. Today’s e-mail and calendar applications usually set meetings to a :60 min default. Think about what that means.  One hour is roughly 10% percent of the average businessperson’s workday. So, the question becomes: Is the meeting truly important enough for you to ask everyone to give up such a large chunk of their workday? Furthermore, one-hour meetings are harder to schedule. So, think it over carefully, to determine if an entire hour really needed, or could if you achieve the objective in :30 minutes or via e-mail.

The ideal meeting begins before anyone sits down at the table.  The next time you receive a meeting request ask the four questions, it will save you time and help you manage the fire hose of requests.