So, you have just been promoted to a manager role and you now have a seat on a working group or other whole-of-organisation committee. Chances are you might be the most junior person on the team or surrounded by others who have a whole lot more experience mastering the dynamics and nuances of “The Meeting”.
In the beginning, it will be a delicate balance of demonstrating that you deserve your seat at the table while you learn the written and more importantly, the unwritten rules of negotiating outcomes at a higher level. You will need to find your voice and make sure your views and expertise are heard and make a valuable contribution to the team.
In my previous role as Manager, Research & Evaluation I often found myself the most junior person (and only civilian) at a table of senior police officers. These are some of the lessons that I learnt.
- Do your homework
If you are new to a working group take time to read over previous meeting minutes, working notes or any reports previously produced by the group. If there are working papers or draft reports you are meant to read prior to the meeting…read them! It is so annoying when the Chair of a group asks ‘Has everyone read the draft report?” and half the group mumble something about being too busy. This means that the group is not able to move promptly on decisions and often decisions will get delayed to the next meeting. Show you are engaged and be informed.
- Observe Silently
Resist the urge to show everyone how brilliant you are without taking time to get a lay of the land. There may be a few colleagues you are familiar with but there are also going to be senior officers you have not dealt with personally before and who might not be that thrilled with you outlining immediately how you think things should be done. If the group has been in place for a while or is a standing governance group there are sure to be dynamics in place that would be unwise to ignore.
Take note of who is really running the meeting (this may not be the Chair) and who the key doers are in the group versus those that simply show up. Observing silently does not mean not contributing at all (see next point) but just as it is wise to check the depth of the lake before diving in off the bank, it is wise to observe people and processes before jumping in.
- Contribute Purposefully
Don’t get stuck in observation mode. Speak Up! If you wait to be asked for your opinion you may be waiting a long time. Learn the art of polite, powerful interjection. If you are a quieter introvert at heart now is the time to take a deep breath and claim your space at the table. Point 1 above (preparation) is key for introverts who generally like to carefully think before giving an opinion. Collect your thoughts and do your analysis prior to the meeting so you can be prepared with an opinion or have points noted down that you want to raise.
Take note of the speaking style of senior people you admire for their executive presence and gravitas. They generally don’t rush yet at the same time they don’t waffle either. Make your point succinctly without unnecessary embellishment or going off on a tangent. Breath and speak with the exhale. Nerves will cause you to speak breathlessly and in a higher pitch and therefore sound uncertain. There are a number of techniques that you can practice to generate more depth and gravitas in your voice.
- Have a Can-Do Attitude
There is a big difference between negativity and reality checking. I always used to tell my team members to ‘pick your battle’. Don’t stomp your feet and argue with a senior manager about minor issues. Constantly complaining or standing your ground on matters that really aren’t that important will just have you identified as the whinger.
Constantly arguing your point (even if you are right) will quickly relegate you to being the least influential person in the group. Have an attitude that believes obstacles can be overcome. Let the small stuff go. Let someone else win an argument if it really isn’t that important in the scheme of things. Then, when you really have an important issue that you want to stand your ground on or disagree with, then speak up. My bosses knew that if I did dig in on a point then maybe I had something worth listening to.
The most influential people are not always the most opinionated or the loudest.
Make your opinion count.
If you are an emerging leader or a new manager who wants to boost their communication and leadership confidence, then send me an email.
We will arrange a time to meet via phone, in person or Zoom, to discuss the number one thing you are struggling with and identify some practical strategies to help you find your voice.
During April this Kickstart Session is only $49.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your spot.