Leaders convey their position of influence and authority in all different types of meetings. You don't have to call a meeting to be a leader in a meeting. Ideally, you will be a leader in any setting where you feel it is important to inspire others to follow a path you lay out.
To assert your leadership in those times, in any meeting where it is essential, use these seven tips.
#1 - To be influential, speak up early instead of speaking often
This tip can be particularly challenging for leaders who are introverted or those who prefer to hear others' opinions before offering their own. You will have to use your best judgment to be sure that you apply this appropriately.
The idea behind this tip is to anchor the conversation. What can happen if you hold back is that the conversation will progress beyond the point where your input will have an impact. You may lose the opportunity to shape an important dialogue if you withhold your input for too long.
Of course, your input that anchors should not be input that prohibits others from contributing alternative ideas. As a leader, you have to strike the right balance.
Speaking often is a cheap substitute for speaking early and with impact. If you are dominating the meeting, you are not allowing others to contribute and participate in meaningful ways.
Go for quality over quantity.
#2 - Check to be sure you understand instead of assuming
Listen closely to the content and feeling the encoded by others. Respond with questions and seek clarity before you over steer the conversation. Do not make assumptions about what others are thinking. Instead, invite others to openly state or restate their positions. Be open to new ideas and new ways of looking at old problems.
#3 - Be clear about the role you are to play in each meeting
Don't let yourself be cast in a role you don't understand. Likewise, don't let others make assumptions about the role you are playing in any given meeting. For example, if you have called the meeting, others may feel that signifies your control of the meeting. They may defer to you in ways you do not intend. They may hold back instead of offering opinions and information you are seeking.
If you have been invited it to someone else's meeting, or if you're serving on a cross/functional team, your role may be even easier to misunderstand.
Seek clarity. Are you the final decision-maker in this meeting? Is it your role to offer an opinion that will be taken into consideration? Are you the subject matter expert who has been asked to share and consult on a very finite matter? Are you there to help stimulate brainstorming? What is it that others are expecting you to do and in what manner should you do it?
#4 - Be selective in choosing which meetings to attend
By following the tip number three and understanding what your role should be in a meeting, you can narrow down the number of meetings to attend. You can also opt to attend only a portion of the meeting. Don't get sucked into too many meetings where your contributions will be minimal. Avoid meetings where it will make no difference whether you are present or not.
When invited to a meeting, before you agree to attend, ask what your role will be and push back to be sure your presence is truly warranted. If you find yourself in meetings where you are disengaged and do not feel a compelling need to be present, this should serve as a red flag that you are allowing too many meetings to creep on to your calendar.
#5 - Never leave the meeting without action items and timelines
Just as you are seeking clarity before you attend a meeting, you also should get clarity about next steps as you leave a meeting. Write down any item, big or small, you have committed to follow up on. Then follow up as quickly as possible to tie up any loose ends from the meeting.
To hold yourself accountable and demonstrate leadership, nail down the timelines for your action items, too. You should expect that others do the same. When necessary, assign the action items and be sure everyone agrees on the timeline for completion. Otherwise, you'll find yourself in another meeting with no progress having been made and needless rework being done.
#6 - Keep everything in the meeting focused on the full group
You can show leadership by keeping the meeting focused on the agenda and making sure no tangents exclude members of the group. When side issues and distractions carry the conversation away from the full group, call it out and instruct others to sideline the conversation for a later time with the appropriate subset of team members.
Be sure you follow this protocol, too. Don't allow yourself to take detours that leave others behind.
#7 - Use meetings as an effective delegation tool
As a leader, you do get invited to more meetings then you can manage. Often times, what's really needed is representation for your department rather than you, personally, being in attendance.
In situations like this, you have a golden opportunity to delegate meeting attendance to one of your team members. It is a good development opportunity for someone to represent the department cross-functionally.
However, if you delegate attendance, be sure you also delegate the corresponding authority to speak on behalf of your department and to participate in preliminary decision making. Your delegation should not unduly slow down decision-making or impede meeting effectiveness.
Sometimes, the best way to be a leader in a meeting is to excuse yourself from the meeting so others have a chance to step up and lead.