A friend of mine was cycling home from work one day, and as she cycled by someone, he toppled to the ground.  My friend got off her bike, and stepped towards the small group of people that had already started to gather around the unconscious man.  She looked around at them and saw panic and fear, but no action.

So she stepped forward.

She pointed at someone and said “You, call an ambulance.”  She pointed at someone else and said “You, move everyone back so that the ambulance people can get here. “

She knelt down at the man’s side and felt his pulse.  There was no pulse.  She looked up at the group and said “Does anyone else know CPR?”  A man stepped up, and together they performed CPR until the paramedics arrived.

We’re all waiting for someone else to take the lead

My friend, in taking control at the scene of a medical emergency, demonstrated why meetings need leaders.  When people get together, if no one takes the lead, if no one’s job is to mobilise the troops, then the results that will be achieved, if any, will only be achieved by wasting time and beating around the bush, and very likely causing conflict and frustration.

The reality is that people are looking for someone to lead them, in meetings as in anywhere else. I experienced this personally in many meetings I attended where the chair was suddenly unable to attend.  The people in the room started to whisper amongst themselves, as if they were saying, “what do we do now?”  It just takes one person to step forward and take control.  No control, no meeting, no results.

Well-led meeetings are an extraordinarily powerful way to solve problems and get results, and the success of a meeting is directly proportional to the skill of the meeting facilitator.

While it’s a good start to step up and take control, it’s not enough. 

Because it’s not just about mobilising the troops.  It’s about so much more.

A meeting facilitator must be the eyes and ears of the group.  What does this mean?  It means that now that you have stepped up to lead, you take on a new set of responsibilities, ones that are different than they would be if you were the attendee and not the leader.  Your attendees need you to look at the world within the meeting in a different way.  It’s your role to see if things are on track or not, to identify barriers to progress in the meeting, to change tack if it’s necessary.  So you need to watch and listen to the goings on at the same time as leading.

This can be like patting your head and rubbing your tummy, which is why there are precious few people who can do it.  Leading a meeting this way is a specialist skill, and one that is completely learnable, when you know how to do it.  You don’t want to be the chairperson whose job is to say “item 1 on the agenda is a recap on last week’s progress” and then wait until it’s time to say “item 2 on the meeting is an update from Fred.”  I would wager that you’ve been in meetings like this, so you already know that they are a drudgery, and not necessarily because the subject matter is dull.  It’s because the meeting did not have a leader.

Leading meetings means doing what other people don’t do

When I was a young girl, I used to go camping and hiking quite often with my family.  My father was an avid outdoorsman, and he always told us that we should leave our campsites cleaner than how we found them.  Meetings should be the same.  They should be the better for you having led them.

Think of how most people view meetings now:  as dreaded obligations they have to put up with.  If you lead meetings well, then meetings are no longer simply obligations, but opportunities.  Good meeting leadership has people wanting to come to the meeting, to contribute, and has them inspired to take action.   You know … meetings with a pulse.

Aren’t those the kinds of meetings you want?

Don’t wait until it’s an emergency.  Step forward now.