Focus in Meetings and Put Down That Blackberry

The best leaders ensure the success of their team and their own careers, by being present in the moment. Below are some important reasons that great leaders, as servants in the organization, must ensure team meetings have their full focus.

Put Down That PDA in Your Meeting

Admit it, you’ve done this too – sat through a meeting, spending most of the time reading email and typing responses.  You thought, “just one more message, then I can focus on this meeting”.  But as you’re typing, you suddenly hear your name or a keyword that peaks your interest.  You look up and either jump in with a completely irrelevant comment or have to ask clarification on what’s happening.

This is often a bigger problem than we recognize, especially if you’re the boss in the room.  Regardless of the appropriateness of your response, the team may not always question your decisions or guidance (symptoms of a bigger problem, but that’s another post).  Worse, they may assume you know something they do not and receive your comments as marching orders.  In contrast, the best leaders ensure the success of their team and their own careers, by being present in the moment.  Below are some important reasons that great leaders, as servants in the organization, must ensure team meetings have their full focus:

1. Ensure Clarity

If you’re not hearing all the concerns, you may easily miss the most important point.  For example, you may think the greatest problem faced by the team is a shortage of staff to complete on time.  Therefore, when you peak up from the Blackberry after a comment about a particular person’s time constraints, you assure the team you will adjust the necessary priorities to get all the resources they need.

What you missed was that the Project Manager just said, prior to you’re full attention, that the budget was going to be overrun by about 50% to hit the launch date.  In addition, there was one person whose time was too tight.  However, after you clarified you would adjust priorities to get the PM the resources she needs, she’s off and spending to acquire the staffing necessary to hit launch date.

2. Be Empathetic

Employees and followers want leaders that truly understand their challenges.  The casual fly by to say hello and exclaim you know “just how hard everyone’s working” is not empathy.  In contrast, the manager that listens into the specifics of meetings and can recite case-after-case of specific challenges their employees are facing while caring – that is empathy.

The leader that serves their organization can sit in a meeting and challenge the team member that sheepishly agrees to accepting a new task.  The empathizing leader recognizes that this person is pressured into accepting responsibility, but also knows their bandwidth is too tight to be successful. Such a serving leader may respond, “Mary, I saw your hours last week exceeded 70, for the third week in a row – can you really take this task on top of the Accounts Payable project you’re leading?”

3. Deliver Support

Side-comments are often made in meetings that great leaders recognize as red flags.  These moments are invitations for the leader to understand where problems may be arising. Such opportunities are not listed on the formal agenda, they’re not always tracked as risks either.  Instead, asides may be assumed known by the leader, but in reality, require the presence and thorough attention of the leader to ask the right question.

If you’re too busy reading your iPhone and miss the comment the team leader makes about “Marketing pulling all our resources”, you may not even be aware of the major risk just raised.  You’re team believes you saw the email that requested this and so believe you’re on board.

Now, I’m no fool and I’m no saint.  There remain times when I feel obligated to check my Blackberry during the meeting.  Production issues,vital budgeting times and similar high priority concerns may require our attention throughout the day.  However, I’ve learned to ask my team to call me on it. When I seem too distracted, I want the team to say so.  In addition, you may find it helpful to make sure they understand why you are distracted before the meeting begins and ask them to call your attention to key concerns.  Ultimately, it is important that your team meetings include not only your physical presence but your full mental attention as well.  Otherwise, your team will quickly see you as a figure head and not someone there to serve the best interests of the team and the company.

Question: What tips do you have for ensuring your team has your full focus, especially in meetings?


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

6 thoughts on “Focus in Meetings and Put Down That Blackberry”

  1. Spot on, Ben. We live in a world where almost everyone has continuos partial attention, yet focus is as important… or more… than it ever was for getting things done. I have a couple of requests that I sometimes make of the team. First, no laptops, unless your job is to be the notetaker. Everyone is checking email or surfing, not engaged in the meeting. Second, if you are in a support role that requires very high levels of response, then set up your alerts to distinguish urgent items from the ton of messages or alerts that are merely interesting… at best. Not every interrupt requires an immediate response. Third, I'm a bit of a hard-ass on this: if you have to step out to respond to an urgent item, no one will make you wrong, but you forfeit the right to make an impact on the process or the outcome. Lastly: have ground rules on meeting conduct with fines (usually $1). Best fine: have to sing a song in public… watch how everyone minds their manners.

  2. Oh just saw this and had to start laughing. This is such a pet peeve of mine, I do a whole section on it in my comm skills for IT pros class. The technology is so addictive and the urgency of things become so much more in our faces so much more immediate. BUT, for leadership, for communication, for clarity, and ultimately for productivity it's important to set aside the technology to focus on the communication and the relationships. So much more gets done when our teams feel like they are being listened to, taken seriously, and when we are engaged.

    Our businesses ran before the mobile chains proliferated into texting and email. and they will still run if we wait a few minutes to finish a conversation or meeting. Actually they might even run a little better, as engaged workers communicate better and do their work with more energy than disengaged.

    Okay rant over. Good post Ben. I'll retweet next time I'm do my ITSoftSkills posts

    1. Please, rant on! Lots of great comments and even quotables in there. I think my favorite was: "Our businesses ran before the mobile chains proliferated into texting and email. and they will still run if we wait a few minutes to finish a conversation or meeting. Actually they might even run a little better…"

      I think I would really enjoy your Comm Skills for IT Pros class. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Pingback: Do You Have a "Leadership Tell"?

  4. Haha! This is so true! Your Blackberry must be serving you well with all your business-related messages. If you know what I mean. LOL! That’s fine. The phone makes the communication process a lot easier, right? And you’re one of the many businessmen owning a BB. But yes, you gave strong points there. It will be an effective solution to let your members inform you, when you’re getting too distracted, so you can refocus your attention on the meeting.

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