Leadership Behavior in Meetings

By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN


Like it or not, most nurse leaders spend a good portion of every week in meetings.  Some of our attendance is by choice but often it is an expectation.  It is not unusual to see leaders “check out of the discussion”.

Our lack of participation does not go unnoticed even if we try be discreet about it.  This disengagement impacts how our executive presence is perceived.  In his book titled Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith points out that factors in our environment (such as too many unproductive meetings) can lead us to sometimes behave badly.  When we are frustrated, the easiest path is often just to disengage from what is being discussed.  A second path is to endlessly complain that nothing is being accomplished even though we ourselves are not contributing any outcomes.  Neither approach enhances our image as leaders.  Goldsmith urges us to instead ask ourselves the following 4 questions at the end of challenging meetings about how we spent our time:

1  Did I do my best to be happy?

Goldsmith makes the interesting point that a significant part of “being happy” is the responsibility of the person themselves.  Too often, we think that happiness is “out there” when in fact most happiness comes from factors within.  He argues that some of the questions asked on employee engagement or satisfaction surveys are actually designed to provoke a negative response implying that engagement or happiness is the responsibility of the employer.  While it is true that environment does matter, looking for happiness in what we do is important.

2  Did I do my best to find meaning?

How many times have you told yourself at the end of a meeting that it was a total waste of your time.  Goldsmith argues that while that may be true to some degree, there can be value in a meeting or activity if you look for it.  Part of the secret often is to come with questions that will move the discussion in a more interesting and meaningful direction.  Instead of critiquing the meeting facilitator, try to help them.  Look for at least one nugget of information in every meeting that you did not know before you entered the room.

3  Did I do my best to build positive relationships?

Many of us are familiar with the Gallup survey that asks staff “do you have a best friend at work?”  But growing positive relationships and having a best friend means that you too have to extend yourself to form relationships.  Challenge yourself at a meeting to build a good relationship with at least one person in the room.

4  Did I do my best to be fully engaged?

When you attend a meeting, do you put away your smartphone and pay attention?  When you ask yourself whether you are doing your best to be engaged, it shifts the responsibility.  Reading Goldsmith’s work has somewhat changed my thinking on employee engagement.  Research that has done by the Advisory Board indicates that only about 32.8% of RNs are engaged in their work.  The Gallup Corporation has found strong linkages between manager engagement and staff engagement.  Yet Goldsmith argues that our current surveys on engagement presume that engagement is totally a product of the environment when in fact there is a strong individual component.

Self-reflection through asking action-oriented questions about our own behavior can be very powerful in reframing situations.  So the next time you attend a meeting when you would rather not be there – bring these four questions with you.  Act with the intention to improve during the meeting and then test yourself using a scale of 1-10 after the meeting on each question.  You may be amazed at the changes you will see in yourself.

Dr. Rose O. Sherman, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN is a Professor of Nursing and Director of the Nursing Leadership Institute in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida. To read more of her articles, visit her blog, Emerging RN Leader.