Teaching and Leading Positively, Part 5: A New Rule for Designing Meetings

By Robert E. Quinn

This six-part series, “Teaching and Leading Positively,” explores the goals of teaching positive leadership: not merely to serve as an instructor conveying the theories or practices drawn for positive organizational scholarship, but to prompt lasting transformation in the way our students work and live. Serving as this kind of catalyst requires full engagement on our part. We must live from the positive leadership framework, allowing our students to learn by our example, each other’s, and their own.

One reason I write a gratitude journal is to increase my positivity level. Sometimes it works. One morning after writing, for example, I drove to the University of Michigan, where I teach (as most Lift blog readers know). As I stepped out of the car, I was teeming with positivity. This is a big claim. How do I know that my claim is true? I know it is true because there was tangible evidence. First, I was full of joy. The feeling was real. Second, I had a huge smile on my face. The smile was real. Third, I began to change the world. The change in the world was real.

As I walked by strangers who would have ignored me, I greeted them. They looked at me, and they lit up. As I walked from my office to a meeting, this phenomenon continued. I greeted each student with positive emotion, and each responded very differently than I usually observe when I walk down that hallway.

I walked into the meeting, and I consciously greeted each person with joy. People lit up, and I felt great because they felt better. Then something shifted. A half-hour into this typical two-hour information exchange, my positivity was gone.

When I was full of positivity, I focused on my connections with others, even strangers. Sitting in the meeting, however, my positivity in remission, I was full of normally flowing, self-interested thoughts. My joy was gone. My smile was gone. My impact was downgraded.

As I realized this, I began to make notes about the inability of brilliant people to create mechanisms of relational engagement. Simply put, that same meeting could have been run so that it was a spectacular experience.

I challenged myself to redesign the meeting. My new objective was to accomplish the original goals of the meeting with maximum engagement. This new constraint forced me to think creatively. As I did, I began to see possibilities that would have radically improved not only the meeting experience, but also the product that we were there to discuss.

This mind experiment leads me to make a suggestion. The next time you are in charge of a meeting, go ahead and design it as you normally would. Then add an objective: Every minute, every participant must be fully engaged. This will require that you think differently. It may well frustrate you at first. But stay with it. You may create a meeting that exceeds everyone’s expectations and produces better outcomes than you could have imagined.