Tom was missing.
No one had heard from Tom in the days and hours leading up to this key, all-important summit. That in and of itself was troubling as Tom was either early to these meetings, or provided ample notice that he would be delayed or unable to participate.
While there were still three minutes remaining before the meeting’s scheduled start, a meeting of community leaders and volunteers, several in attendance could be heard remarking how the meeting will now, with Tom’s absence, “speed through,” and create “little contentious debate.” While they felt Tom’s absence to be a positive factor in today’s deliberations, I was left reflecting how not having his cognitive construction (“a mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited”), his years of intense study on today’s subject, and his ability to ‘see around corners’, would limit a comprehensive analysis and optimal process structure. Further in my reflections I was reminded of an aged, but timely pearl of corporate wisdom, “There are times we count the votes and there are times we weigh them.”
Tom’s vote that day would have been one of the ‘heaviest’ as his accumulated knowledge, experience and insight often brought clarity to the fog surrounding important discussions and decisions. We were left with a large cluster of a more homogeneous thinking, thwarting or reducing healthy, spirited debate.
Weird, that word weight. A word that evokes a host of emotions. The question of weight, like age, is so often considered inconsiderate at best, and discriminatory in a professional setting. I’m betting many of you opened this topic just to see how I could possibly drive any meaningful discussion along the boundaries of leadership, reflection or professional growth and development.
But taken as I intended, in a completely different context, your weight represents your stature, importance and value in a given situation or circumstance; what you bring to a given group or topic.
How heavy is your weight in similar settings? Do you show up? Are you fully prepared to engage, having done the requisite work necessary to add your greatest value? Will people miss you if you are late or unable to attend meetings?
Recently, I was meeting with a local financial services executive. He shared a meeting structure with me for his company that I found fits this story rather well. He said that there are two types of seating for each critical meeting. There are seats around the table, and seats around the walls. The distinction is this: if you have a seat around the table you are expected to participate in the fullest sense. You must come prepared to engage, be prepared for the topics on the agenda and be willing to step up in debates, offering your perspective. If you are seated along the wall, you only have a voice if someone around the table asks you a question. You generally are a fact gatherer, someone that supports, with data, arguments being made around the table. He went on to say that if you are seated around the table and add little to no value in the agenda, don’t be surprised if you are relegated to the outer ring of seats at a future meeting. The bottom line is this; bring all your weight to the table!
Take the time necessary to challenge yourself as you plan for future meetings. Commit to being present, prepared and participatory. But be careful, don’t mistake participating as being verbose yet inconsequential. We all know people in meetings that monopolize the floor while saying little of merit. Make a mental note to be passionate while being succinct. Your words will weigh more when they matter to those in attendance.
Weight also comes from surveillance, knowing when to enter a discussion, but equally important, knowing when to encourage quieter voices forward. The weight of leadership might appear heavy, but when that weight is solid muscle, you’ve reached a point in your leadership fitness that people surrounding you will take notice and see your true value.
I wish you the best as you go forward, adding new muscle to your leadership frame. Weight that will most certainly look good on you!