The CEO who doesn’t run meetings

The title of this current bestseller in Hong Kong is “The CEO who doesn’t run meetings.”

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Of course, in any corporation, meetings are unavoidable. And there are good reasons why staff at the middle management and junior levels usually abhor meetings. They already have hundreds of matters on their plates to deal with, and they are usually sitting in the conference room simply to listen to instructions or reprimands from the boss.

On the other hand, for managers and senior staff, because their role is to lead or manage, holding meetings is part and parcel of their jobs, and they sometimes forget that their subordinates can have a very different daily work agenda. One former student related to me how her principal was addicted to holding marathon meetings with the staff after school, sometimes until 9 o’clock at night! The principal might think these meetings were important and necessary, but had probably forgotten that there were hundreds of exercise books waiting to be marked by the teachers urgently for the next day, and dozens of other chores that the teachers had to deal with immediately. And I’m not even talking about lesson preparation.

We all understand that meetings are unavoidable, but it is imperative that we come to grips with the purpose of a meeting, instead of meeting for the sake of meeting. In fact, this perceiving the purpose clearly is important for all aspects of managing, so that we don’t confuse the means with the end, and fall prey to managerialism.

I recall the sharing by a former student, who is the English panel head of the three sub-panel heads at his school. In managing the sub-panel heads, he minimises the unnecessary routine and procedural tasks, and instead gives them autonomy in developing the curriculum and innovating new teaching ideas. To his delight, the sub-panel heads then work with a great deal of initiative and enthusiasm. As a result, the students learn better.

The students learn better – isn’t this the goal that we aim for? And if we can accomplish that without over-managing, why not? My former student has another philosophy that clicks with me: “If the sub-panel heads are already doing a good job, and if they can thus finish their work earlier and have more leisure time to enjoy because we have done away with the unnecessary admin steps and chores, why not?”

Let’s remember: Our purpose is to attain our goal, not to torture ourselves along the way.

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