When I was in a leadership program at a previous employer, the senior leaders shared how much of their day was filled with back to back meetings.

We asked them, “How did you get anything done?”

Sometimes they scheduled extra time into meetings that were actually short. Think about that for a moment. They purposely booked a full hour for a meeting with an employee when they knew they weren’t going to need a full hour just so that they could get 10 or 20 extra minutes in their day.

Often they worked before or after work, taking work home with them. They talked about waiting until kids went to bed or waking up before anyone else in their house to actually “get work done.”

“Well, this must be the only way,” I thought. I also thought, “I guess I don’t want to be a senior leader in this organization.”

During the leadership program, I had a chance to shadow a senior leader for half a day. I followed her to two meetings and observed. The first meeting was a small one with her own team and she probably did need to be there. She weighed in on ideas and approved decisions so that the team could move forward. It was relatively short and productive.

The second meeting was basically a sales pitch from the enterprise software company that was one of the larger vendors for the organization. I remember we had to race over there from the other side of campus, parked illegally, and were a little late. The room was full – most of the leadership team was in attendance. The software company had sent three sales guys in nicely tailored suits.

It was a serious waste of time and resources.

The leader I was shadowing spent most of the time on her phone, dealing with emails. She wasn’t even listening. She didn’t miss anything important.

The entire meeting was a performance. No new knowledge was created. There was no collective wisdom brought out of the gathering of these smart and well-connected people. It was meetings like this that were bloating the senior leaders’ schedules. Performative nonsense meetings in which they were not there as a human being with ideas and experience, but rather as titles with organizational responsibilities and privileges. Meetings like this were contributing to organizational leaders losing sleep by taking their work home with them. It made me mad.

If you have any control over initiating or hosting a meeting in which nothing new is going to be created, decided, or resolved, then CANCEL IT. If your meeting can be replaced by a memo, a recorded video, a summary report, or any other recitation of information and updates, then CANCEL IT. If you intend to host a meeting in which you hypothetically would like input and engagement from the people you invite, but then you do to not design the meeting to actually allow that to happen, then CANCEL IT.

Be brave, be different, cancel the unnecessary meetings that are wasting so many people’s time and resources and change the culture one canceled meeting at a time.

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