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How to Run Engaging Meetings
Meetings Go Better When You Understand How the Mind Works
Source: Insight Principles
Executives spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings! Much has been written about how to run a good meeting. The purpose of this white paper is to share what we have learned about this topic when understanding and remembering the role of thought and the built-in design for success of the human mind.
Many of the current rules and guidelines for effective meetings pay attention to the right things, because they align with the logic of how the mind works. You probably know and already use many of these. We have included some of them here because of the leverage that occurs when you combine these guidelines with an understanding of the mind.
When you understand and remember how the mind works, you also recognize that:
- You have a built-in design for psychological success. An obvious question is, “What is getting in the way of the innate design?”
- When you are at your best, a magnificent set of capabilities comes on line:
- You can listen deeply without effort
- You can think for yourself (mental clarity)
- You have perspective
- Your primary attention and interest is on others versus on yourself
- Similarly, you are more interested in what others think versus what you think
- You have important and relevant insights, as needed
- Your humanity prevails
- You are wise, you have lots of common sense
- You see and value the wisdom in others
- You will get lost from time to time. You forget that you live in a thought-created reality and that your feelings are being created inside your mind by your thinking. You can get gripped by the appearance that others or circumstances are to blame. Remembering how the system works, from the inside-out, returns you to balance.
As you reflect on the recap above, you can see that keeping your understanding front and center can be a challenge. Now multiply that by the number of people in a meeting and you can easily see why meetings, on average, are only a 10% effective use of time and a really, really good meeting is 50% effective.
2. Before the Meeting
Very much like a Nascar or Formula One pitstop, a lot of what makes a meeting work, has to happen in advance of the meeting.
What are you trying to get done?
We attend many meetings that are vague at best. A topic or title may have been announced (“Strategy Review”, ”Budget”, etc.), but given that we are all living in our own reality, how likely is it that everyone is turning up for the same meeting? When you are the meeting originator, reflect on what you are trying to accomplish and then be clear about it when you invite people. Tell them why you need them to attend. For example, you can emulate the late Steven Covey and begin with the end in mind. Tell people in the invitation what you want the result to be.
What is realistic or needed?
Many meetings try to accomplish too much. The phrase “less is more” is often a good guideline. Even if your team does not get together often, try not to cram everything in one meeting.
What are you trying to get done? If the subject is complex, maybe the meeting’s only purpose is to get everyone on the same page as to the problem statement. Subsequent meetings may be needed to actually work the problem. Be mindful of how many things you are trying to get done at once.
Our generic guidance is one bite at a time. Five one-hour meetings can often get more done that a single eight-hour meeting. The mind has a deep capacity to process things in the background, when you let it. Touching a topic a few times with space in between actually allows more and better quality thinking to occur.
What needs to happen in advance to get the result?
Like a pitstop, once the end point is clear, you need to think about what is needed in advance. It’s not good for the car to turn up and then someone has to find the new tires.
There will be meetings that are for discovery or exploration. People should turn up open minded and not much content prep is needed. Other meetings require lots of data/info absorption in advance. It takes people a while to reflect before they have clarity. Presenting information and expecting an immediate response does not allow for reflection.
Some topics have a lot of history. Your team may have been thinking about a topic for a long time. You need to factor this in and plan for it.
What structures will help?
Like a pitstop, it is helpful to set out in advance what needs to be attended to, in what order, how it will be attended to, and by whom. You don’t want five people turning up with tires but no jack to lift the car.
In addition to the structures mentioned above (agenda, process, and roles), others to consider include:
- Media: Remember, some people are auditory, others are more visual, and so
- Data/information format: Most people are not able to thoughtfully absorb information unless it is well structured. Be thoughtful how you assemble what you send
- Pre-meetings: Some people don’t process things in isolation. In some instances, it is good to meet certain people in advance and help them process their thinking.
- Staging: This refers to how many bites are needed. Often it is better to break the endeavor into several steps/meetings: data sharing and clarification, digestion (time), regroup, and decide.
A little more about staging. Here’s an example:
- First, allow time for the presenter to lay out some information, remembering that less is often more.
- Then allow clarifying questions, to make sure everyone really understands what was presented. You have to be vigilant that these questions don’t leak over into debate or opinions. We are all creatures of habit and can find it hard to not jump in and start the discussion!
- Now you can lead a discussion. Remember, we are all deeply connected to universal wisdom and when we are settled/in balance, we hear that wisdom more clearly. One good way to discuss a topic is for the group to wonder. Often it is better if the presenter/owner observes and takes notes. We have watched teams spend 10 minutes on the information sharing, 10 minutes on clarification, and then have a deep, insightful wondering discussion for another 10. After 30 minutes, the team leaves with a thorough understanding of the topic, the owner receives a lot of input and new ideas from which to cull the most useful, and everyone feels a part of the
Of course, many topics need to be addressed differently but if you keep the mechanics in mind, you will design the best process.
The above are not set rules. If you wonder/reflect on what you understand about the human mind and about your team, you will know what needs attention and how much.
What about the mechanics?
The mental state of people attending a meeting really matters. We would go so far as to say it is primary and trumps all the above. What could you think about or do in advance to help people attend in a better state of mind?
What helps you? It might be good to reflect and see what works best for you. It can help to find out about other’s needs and take them into account if you can. We’ve heard many ideas over the years. Here are a couple:
- “I allow five minutes mental breathing space between meetings”. Good idea. If there is no mental gap between activities, you can be physically in your next meeting while still mentally in the prior one.
- “I’m a morning person” or “I avoid Friday afternoons” [you could substitute a variety of options here]. People do have periods of the day, week, or month when they have more or less on their minds, e.g., the end of the month, closing, budget season, performance reviews, etc. can be particularly tough. Take this into account.
Practically, this boils down to adjusting the scheduling and duration of a meeting based on people’s preferences and the topic to be discussed.
3. In the Meeting
Assuming the meeting has been well set up and the right people are in attendance, there are three things to pay attention to:
- The content – the topic(s) that you are meeting to discuss
- The process – how you are going about the meeting, as defined above
- The mechanics – how the minds of the people in the meeting are operating during the meeting
Here’s more about how your understanding of the mechanics of the mind help you have a better meeting.
Starting the Meeting
Checking in to see who has shown up
It is common for people to be moving from meeting to meeting without a break. People’s heads get full and busy and by the time they show up for your meeting, the mental mechanics can be off.
At the start of a meeting, it is very helpful to address this. You want everyone in your meeting to be present and clear-minded, able to listen and look for insights.
We recently observed a client ask those in the meeting to sit for a minute or two in silence to let their minds settle. In another company, the leader checked in with everyone asking them what feeling they were present to. Having people notice where they are psychologically helps their system move back into balance.
Note: If the group/participants have not learned about how the mind works, you will want to explain why you are doing this. Explain that taking a moment to reset the mind allows you to be present in the current meeting, rather than thinking about the previous one, or the next one.
If you find that several people are metaphorically “out to lunch”, then maybe you don’t start the meeting!
Reconfirm the destination/end
One more thing to attend to before you start the meeting. Ensure that everyone shares a more or less common view of the target of the meeting. Even if the agenda was very clear on outcomes and results, it is good practice to remind people and check for understanding. It might have been clear when they received the invite but now isn’t. Remember, we live in separate realities. “Check if the strategy is still valid,” might have a different twist to each participant. Go slow to finish fast – make sure everyone is on the same bus.
By the way, this is a good practice everytime a new topic is addressed in a meeting.
During the meeting
To summarize this next section in two words: “Stay Awake.” The three aspects of content, process, and mechanics are always at work and need to be adjusted as the interactions unfold. The process can be well set up, and then as the group gets into the content, the mechanics may go off track.
Once you get eyes for the role of thought and the fact that the mind has a built-in design for success, you will notice natural opportunities to intervene with individuals and groups.
Intervening will seem obvious to you because of what you understand but it may not be obvious to others. Explaining why you are intervening and what you are seeing is very helpful.
Keep track of the agenda
You might notice that the agenda for the meeting, is packed with items without adequate time for discussion or reflection. Or that some of the items are informational and can be addressed effectively in other ways. You may decide with the group to adjust the agenda, remove items, or shorten the meeting duration. Let the group know why you are suggesting making the changes.
Remember to wonder/look for insights
As a society, we are conditioned or habituated to drive with our intellect, problem solve, and work hard mentally. Remember, in our program you saw the deep capacity the mind has to wonder and let new and often wise thoughts come in without effort. Rather than grind through a topic, why not wonder through it? If wondering is new to your group, you can explain the value of taking time to reflect and wonder. Help them see that attacking everything with problem- solving is not always the best use of time.
Monitor the mechanics and intervene
As the leader or the person responsible for running the meeting you have to keep an eye on the mechanics. For example, you notice that everyone is talking at once or at least some people are talking over each other. You can interrupt the action and ask people to settle. Again, remember to explain why you are suggesting that everyone settle down. When you are settled mentally, you listen better, you are more open to new ideas, and tend toward more creative thought.
You might notice that the meeting has become bogged down and that the group is getting tired. Maybe it’s “death-by-powerpoint” or you have simply been sitting too long without a break. You can suggest a break but also explain that stepping away for a moment can help clear the mind.
Taking your mind off a subject temporarily can spark new ideas.
Another thing you might notice is that the process you have set up is not serving the group well, or the group seems confused about the discussion. You can suggest stopping the meeting and reflecting on the process together, asking the group what they are seeing. Remember, everyone will be seeing their own version of events and will recommend different adjustments accordingly.
You might see that many items are being discussed but people are unclear as to who is responsible and for what or when. You can suggest stopping for a moment to re-cap the agreements that have been made. Seeing that every mind is constructing a reality from the inside out and then checking in with people to understand what they are seeing, can settle people and they reach alignment more quickly.
Another thing you might become aware of is time. Perhaps you are coming near the end of the time allowed for the meeting and you haven’t finished the discussion. You might check-in with the group to see if they can extend the time and by how much. You then ask how they would like to follow up after the meeting, if another meeting is required and what topic(s) to cover and by whom. The mind has a deep capacity to process things in the background, so even though you might not have finished, allowing space for reflection can open up better quality thinking.
If a wheel falls off your car or you get a flat tire, how long do you continue to drive? The same applies to meetings. People will often see an issue with the mechanics and be hopeful that it will resolve itself. Hope is not a reliable strategy. Intervening early is easier, better received, and requires less adjustment.
Keep the RAM Free
It is impossible to engage in a conversation without thought occupying your mind. And after a long or complex topic, it is easy for the mind to be “full”. As with the RAM of your computer, a full mind does not process as well. Keep an eye on this, and if people get full, take a break.
A great way to help people “clear the RAM”, is to allow a few moments (3-5 minutes) at the end of a topic for people to sit quietly and write down anything they need to do to get the topic off their mind. For example, it might be unanswered questions they need to remember to ask or someone they need to contact. Allowing people to clean up the topic, helps them go into the next topic with more mental space.
4. After the Meeting
Even when the meeting is over, the learning opportunity is not. There is great value in reviewing the meeting. In addition to reviewing the outcome, (did you achieve the intended result?) it is good to review the meeting set up, the process, and of course the mechanics. The purpose is to see what there is to learn.
At a personal level, it is also good to allow a few minutes of personal reflection. How was I in the meeting? What would I do differently?
The best thing you can do to have better quality meetings – keep learning yourself. Taking a few moments to look for insights encourages progress.You will not be perfect. No one is. You will forget all the time. You will lose your balance. Hopefully, you will regain your balance quickly and this will be an excellent learning and teaching moment.
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Igniting Your Team to New Levels of Performance
By: Margaret Graziano
Almost every leader I have interviewed and or worked with, tells me they want a high-performance team. In fact, the number of team building training sessions, workshops, books and ropes courses equate to more than 10,000. Clearly, when it comes to constructing a team of people who work well together to create winning outcomes, knowing ‘how to’ and understanding ‘how to’ are two very different phenomena. Let’s first distinguish elements of a high-performance team, by reviewing what a team is, is not, and revisiting Patrick Lencioni’s world famous book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.
Engagement, accountability and purpose are all table stakes required to build a high-performance team, and all three of those requirements are grossly suffering across most of today’s organizations. A solid workplace culture exists when people come together for a common purpose and align their efforts around that common cause.
The strong and astute organizational leader is one who is committed to optimizing their resources and maximizing their return on their investment. Given the people expense is often the largest investment in any enterprise, creating this kind of culture is simply smart business. As a leader, empowering your workforce to unleash their strengths and encouraging people to collaborate and innovate, leverages people’s ability to act as a team and produce results.
In work cultures where people focus on only their piece of the puzzle, it leads to silo mentality and ultimately breeds ineffectiveness and inefficiency. A high-performance team cannot exist in an environment where competition and one-upmanship prevails. When people on the team focus on each other’s limitations and detriments, and on the why things cannot be done, they all too often miss opportunities to make the organization better. Additionally, teamwork is adversely impacted when the people on the team feel the need to focus on fighting and jockeying for authority or power. This need to be ‘better than’ decreases collaboration and limits innovation. It is a recipe for stagnation and conflict, neither which drive long-term results.
In Lencioni’s book, he boldly shines the light on what does not work for a team. While he has sold over two million copies, implementing his fundamental teaching seems to be much harder said than done. As leaders, it requires rewiring our minds and our teams to repair an absence of trust. However, before you can rewire, you first need to be aware and responsible for the absence of trust in the first place. When people avoid conflict, it is most often because they either have a fear of retribution for saying what needs to be said, or they lack the self-confidence and may second guess their competence, which constraints their ability to speak up and call attention to something that is not working. When people on the team are not engaged, or are not on the team for the right reasons, it instigates a lack of commitment. Frankly, even the best of leaders cannot inspire a lame duck. Unfortunately, an avoidance of accountability seems to be the number one epidemic in organizations today. Having those crucial conversations, holding the bar high and implementing consequences for poor performance is behavior that is avoided by most, like the plague. Again, this might stem from leaders not having the confidence to believe they have the ostensible authority to hold people to account, a lack of training or it could be poor former modeling that could cause it. Lastly, when the leader and the people on the team do not focus on the big picture or don’t focus on achieving specific measurable results, the team might work hard, however, they rarely fulfill on the purpose and intention of the team’s focus.
Whether you are seeking to create a high-performance work team or a high-performance culture, there are 7 steps for creating the circumstances that high performance and teamwork can thrive.
1. The first step in creating a high-performance team is identifying and clarifying the purpose for the team. People must understand the WHY behind what they are doing. Once the purpose for the team is crystallized and talking points are clearly outlined, it is the Initiator of the team’s role to connect the dots for people to see how they relate to it. Communicating an inspiring vision for the people on the team and mapping what success looks like when it is achieved, is a foundational element for congealing a group of people and getting them geared up to work together in unison.
2. The second step in establishing and building a high-performance team is selecting the leader. The leader does not have to be the person who invents the possibility and purpose for the team; it does need to be a person who accepts the responsibility for shepherding and guiding the team to success. The leader’s job is to be present, and to be there for the team. All teams go through the four stages of forming, storming, norming and performing, and the skilled leader is right there with the team through it all.
3. Establishing the rules of the game is the third step in building your team. People need to know what is expected from them, and from the team. People need to know and understand where the boundaries are regarding decision-making, autonomy and performance. Giving people the rules of the game before they agree to play it, allows for people to opt in or opt out of the team and the game. Advanced clarity of expectations also reduces unnecessary problems, reduces ambiguity and confusion, and serves to mitigate poor performance and unwanted turnover on the team.
4. Now that you have the vision, the outcomes and rules of the game, it is important to think schematically about who will do what and which skills and competencies are needed to accomplish the end game. The fourth step is selecting the players for the team. Whether you are building an enterprise or a team of people to accomplish a project, it is crucial that you select the right people for the right roles, for the right reasons. When this happens, people are more inclined to commit, which is the baseline for team engagement. When people are engaged, they have a strong desire to bring value to the team. When people enjoy the type of work they are doing and are able to connect their work to the bigger picture engagement soars. Engaged people focus on what is working and look to leverage talents in themselves and others for the betterment of the goal. It is wise to identify how the roles interact with one another, and how the team needs to be constructed to deliver results. The best team dynamics happen when there is a variety of people who bring their uniqueness to the team. Beyond competencies and skills, it’s important to consider unique traits that each team member brings to the table and how those unique traits can be leveraged for optimal creativity and innovation. Every successful team has one of each of the four primary communication styles on it. A high-performance team needs someone who is decisive when it comes to initiating or redirecting the project or program. A team also needs someone who promotes the program and inspires people along the way, as well as at least one team member focused on looking for potential pitfalls, has a contentious eye for what is missing and uses it to alert the team of issues and solutions for refinement along the way. Lastly, an effective team needs a person or people who are there to do the hard work of implementing the work to achieve the results in a steady and stable manner.
5. Step five in establishing and building a high-performance team is a step that is most often skipped. This is the Level Setting step. When a group of people comes together, it is crucial that they learn how to work together effectively. Whether your group has a history or every member is new, people always come to a new work situation with past behaviors, attitudes, beliefs and ways of being that may or may not be effective on this team and with this new set of people. Level setting allows each member of the team an opportunity to begin again. During a level set, team members explore their limiting beliefs and barriers to working with others in a productive and effective manner, and do the necessary work to unload those factors that get in the way. Through experiential learning, the team as a whole is challenged to work together in ways they never considered. Even the most effective, astute and self-aware people discover limits that were previously hidden from their conscious view. The team lays out the pathway for the best way to work together, how they will resolve personality conflicts and internal challenges with dynamics of the team. At the completion of the level set, the team creates a collective possibility for the team that is inspiring to each and every member of the group.
6. Once the team is selected and everyone is aligned with the vision, outcomes and rules of the game, it is time to start planning. Planning is the sixth step in creating a high-performance team. The best approach for the leader during planning is to be a source for inspiration, questions, and guidance. Leaders who step too far into planning, create teams that are dependent on the leader and lack creativity. The best leaders select the right people, inspire them toward a vision, and back out of the way during the planning stage; unless they are specifically asked for guidance. If the leader notices a problem with the plan, rather than pointing it out, it is much more empowering to ask questions that provoke the team members to activate their critical thinking skills to answer and think potential challenges through. The empowering 21st century leader may ask if the team anticipates challenges along the way, and whether they do or don’t, makes himself available for coaching during the ongoing check-ins.
7. Step seven in creating conditions for a high-performance team to flourish, is to establish a regular process for checking in, tracking progress and celebrating successes, as well as identifying obstacles and strategizing how to overcome them. When people are aware of the milestone meetings and rely on regular feedback, it reduces uncertainty and unnecessary stress. Laying out the stages of organizational effectiveness, beginning with what it means to be operating in formulation and concentration and then defining criteria for low, moderate and high momentum, gives the team an opportunity to self-regulate, correct and celebrate as they see fit. Utilizing a customized version of the agile methodology, is an excellent means to keep progress on track and support the team in attaining momentum with their project, program or goal. Daily stand-ups, bi-weekly declarations and intention setting, as well as bi-monthly retrospectives, give teams a structure they can count on and gives the team healthy guardrails to work independently and remain responsible to each other and the organization as a whole.
While knowing and understanding are two very different distinctions, doing is the link that shifts knowing to understanding. For the impatient leader, doing may be a challenge because progress is most often only experienced incrementally. Building a high-performance team is not about exponential breakthroughs. If they happen, great; however, if sustainability is your goal, impatience is your enemy. Teams respond best to a system that allows them to learn, move forward, fall, learn from mistakes, move forward again and sustain progress over time. When high concentration and effort is celebrated, and low momentum is acknowledged and genuinely appreciated, teams build confidence and fortitude to stay the course and achieve high momentum and sustainability.
Improve Your Leadership IQ
By: Margaret Graziano
Being an effective leader of people in today’s world seems to be much more complicated than in years past. In the previous century, for the vast majority, work was approached as a means for survival. The level of employee engagement did not dictate how long they stayed in the role. That’s different today, however. Working class people are always on the look out for more stimulating and rewarding work, as well as inspiring work environments where they can make a difference and grow themselves and their careers.
Global workforce surveys report that highly qualified, motivated people chose to work for companies that build a strong, inspiring culture and that monitor and address both workplace culture and climate issues as they arise. If recruitment and retention of highly qualified, motivated people is one your organization‘s initiatives, your Leadership IQ ought to be another. They go hand in hand.
Leaders in the early 21st century face unprecedented challenges. They must be able to lead three completely different generations of people, all with different operating contexts and outlooks on what work is all about. Today’s leaders must not only understand their competitors for customers, they must also understand their competitors for the talent. 21st century leaders must have well-honed human awareness acumen and call on it moment-by-moment to inspire, enroll and engage their employees. These leaders must understand the systemic impacts of their company ‘climate’ and be willing to look deeper to understand cultural norms that are impeding agility and innovation. They must have the finesse to weave the day-to-day task work into the big picture and inspire their people to give it their all for the sake of the mission. Today’s leaders need to understand people at their core like never before.
Your Leadership IQ relies on your ability to grow, learn and master new ways to lead people, and there are three tenets to consider when boosting it: Self-awareness, Executive Brain Function, and Response Agility.
Self-awareness begins with the curiosity and courage to hear what works and does not work about your leadership and the culture that exists in the organization. Once you become aware of your competitive talent advantages and your talent barriers from the eyes of your people, you are equipped to take powerful action. Self-awareness allows you to leverage your talent and intervene when and where necessary to remove those personality ticks that are in the way of your true leadership potential.
Culture and climate awareness opens the door for you to see what is really going on and intervene in the cultural norms and barriers that are in the way of employee engagement, innovation and synchronicity. When you are curious and courageous you begin to ask the tough questions and hear the tough answers. When you do this, you begin to see what “blind spots” may be hidden from your view and you learn what you to that sabotages or impedes your leadership effectiveness.
Self-Awareness is the doorway to emotional intelligence and it gives you access to real improvement as well as personal and leadership development. Self-Awareness is not always easy. In almost every case with every human being there are aspects of personality or behavior that has a negative impact on others, and with an authentic look in the mirror an aware leader can begin to take responsibility for that negative impact. Being aware of our negative behaviors, alone, is insufficient. Taking responsibility for the impact of those behaviors, asking for forgiveness and and working to shift those limiting ways of being is where your Leadership IQ begins. Once a leader has mastered self-awareness they optimize their ability to leverage situational awareness; which is fundamental to assessing, evaluating and intervening if need be, in the ebbs and flow of the climate and culture of their organization.
2. Executive Brain Function
Optimizing your Executive Brain function is a secret weapon of Leadership IQ. The PFC, prefrontal cortex, is where the executive brain operates; it is like the controls in a cockpit. This is the part of our brain where strategic thinking, collaboration, reasoning and creativity come from. The problem is most leaders learn over time to depend and lean on one hemisphere and become complacent in allowing that hemisphere to run the show. This limits the airplane’s ability to navigate through storms and soar to new heights.
The left hemisphere of our brain is where our organization, categorizing, reasoning, and strategizing come from. It is in the right hemisphere where brainstorming, innovation, collaboration, and relationship abilities are housed. When a leader is aware of their goals and visions as well as in control (conscious) of their thoughts, responses, and well-being—and the leader leverages both hemispheres of their executive brain through right/left hemisphere integration—their Leadership IQ and effectiveness skyrockets. When a leader is utilizing all of their capacities, they see things they might not see and are more equipped to respond to climate and culture barriers and infringements.
3. Response Agility
Response Agility is the ability to respond in an appropriate, controlled manner—regardless of the current stress or breakdown the leader is facing. Being agile with response and reaction is key to effective leadership. Flat line reaction is not appropriate for all situations. Screaming and yelling is not appropriate for any situation. Anger and frustration might be needed at times, and curiosity and collaboration may be needed at other times.
Agility in your response means that you have trained yourself to think before reacting. Effective leaders ask themselves, “What is needed now?” This has everything to do with situational awareness and appropriate reaction. When stress hits the fan at work, a leader who has a handle on how they respond, and can coach others in this manner, is a leader who is positively contributing to a healthy company climate and culture. Response Agility takes discipline, awareness, new habit formation and commitment and is a core component of Leadership IQ.
Being a mission-driven leader who inspires people to give their best in service of a compelling vision is a key element of today’s most successful leaders. They know that most people they hire are not coming to work simply for a paycheck; these leaders have a keen awareness that many people they hire are coming to work to fulfill their individual purpose in a way that supports the organizational purpose. Today’s highly effective leaders understand how to inspire spirit de corps and leverage their communications with people to do so. They utilize their people intelligence to tie work responsibilities and tasks to the overall intention for and strategy of the business. Lastly these leaders understand the difference between climate and culture and have the aptitude to know how and when to intervene in both.
Learning the fundamentals of how people operate and how to inspire them is the easy part. Mastering those skills is your Leadership IQ. Turning your leadership IQ into your competitive talent advantage is the number one way to impact recruitment and retention of the best people.
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