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3 Rules for Leading Productive Meetings

Do you walk away from meetings feeling as though your people have provided excellent input and innovative solutions for dealing with the issue at hand?

If not, you may be violating three essential rules for leading productive meetings.

I recently had lunch with one of my mentors and business colleagues, Dr. Ted Prince, founder and CEO of the prestigious Perth Leadership Institute.  As a trainer for the Perth Leadership Institute, I always welcome the opportunity to have one-on-one time with Dr. Prince because I usually walk away with some new gem of insight that helps me to be a better trainer and/or to be a better leader.

This recent lunch was no exception.  Although at Perth we are focused very intently on helping leaders improve their direct impacts on gross margin and expenses, Dr. Prince spent 20 years leading numerous companies, including a publicly traded company, as a CEO or as a board member, so he also has a lot of wisdom regarding how to deal with people.

During our lunch, the topic of listening came up, which reminded him of three essential rules for running productive meetings, which he had recently taught to some executives he was coaching.

The three rules for leaders to follow if we want to have the most productive meetings are:

  1. Speak last
  2. Speak less than 10% of the time
  3. Don’t offer opinions

Speak Last

As leaders, many of us often think that we’re supposed to be the one with all the great ideas.  But great leaders know that to be most effective we need to surround ourselves with people that are smarter than us (which is pretty easy for me) and find ways to get them sharing ideas as frequently as possible.  Speaking last is a great way to make sure this happens.  When we speak first, we can create unconscious boxes that people might not feel safe deviating from.  By making the effort to get our people talking before we share any of our own thoughts, we ensure that we have the best chance of getting fresh new ideas that we might have never heard if we shared our ideas first.

Speak Less than 10% of the Time

When we do speak, it should be at most 10% of the time, and primarily to ask questions of our people.  We already know what we think about the topic.  The only way we’ll discover solutions that are potentially better than the ones we have is to get our people talking as much as possible.  In this way, they are likely to either create a solution or provide some new way of looking at an issue that allows us to arrive at a solution that we never would have seen had we tried to do it all on our own.

Don’t Offer Opinions

Our goal should be to create an environment where people feel really safe to share whatever ideas they have.  The moment we start offering opinions about the topic in general or, worse, an idea shared by our people, we increase the level of fear people will have about sharing their ideas, and decrease the likelihood that we will get truly innovative solutions from our people.

Do you follow a version of these three rules when you lead meetings with your people?

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The Intersection of Compassion and Innovation – Interview with Suz Burroughs

An interview with innovation and design thinking expert Suz Burroughs, looking at the intersection between compassion, wakefulness, and innovation.

Suz is an independent consultant and a visiting professor of innovation at the Bill Greehey School of Business at St. Mary’s University.  Suz is working toward a certification as a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher and developing online emotional intelligence training programs in addition to brand consulting and creative facilitation.  While working at Google, Suz was an early member of the Global Innovation Program, worked to create learning experiences for senior leaders, produced online learning programs, and always had at least one social responsibility project going at any time.  Connect with Suz at

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Are You A Leader, Or Just A Manager?

It seems that on almost a daily basis I see or hear the words “leader” and “manager” used interchangeably.  In fact, I sometimes catch myself using them interchangeably, too.

But, when we look closely, it becomes clear that “leader” and “manager” are not necessarily synonymous.  A leader doesn’t necessarily need to be in a management position.  And there are many people in management positions that are certainly not leaders.

Confused?  I hope to clarify below.

What is a manager?

The first definition of “manager” that appears when I search with Google is “A person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization.” For a person to have such responsibilities, they almost always have a title like “manager” or “supervisor” or “director”.  But having a title doesn’t make someone a leader.  If a person has a title but no one is willingly following her or him, then she or he is not a leader.  She or he is just a manager.

What is a leader?

We are only a leader when we are influencing people’s behaviors in a way that results in them willingly following us.   The ability to influence people’s behaviors doesn’t require a title or management position.  The two leaders who were arguably the most influential in history, Jesus and Gandhi, had no title at all.  But they influenced billions of people’s behaviors and billions of people willingly followed them (many still do).  Gandhi’s leadership ended the oppressive British rule over India, liberating hundreds of millions of people.

These two leaders also built their influence in exactly the same way.  They both focused on loving and serving the people around them and they had impeccable character.  I believe that there is no better way to build influence than this.  When people know that we truly care about them and want to help them, they are much more willing to follow us.  When they see that we consistently do the right thing in a caring way, even when it is very difficult to do, we inspire our followers by our example.

What are some ways you are leading by example, whether or not you have a title?

How focused are you on serving your people in ways that help them grow as human beings and achieve greater personal and professional success?

Thanks for reading this post!  As a gift, I’d like to give you this excellent eBook for FREE!  

Just CLICK HERE, and I’ll send you this eBook, featuring chapters from John Spence, Jeff Klein, Charlie Kim, Michael Carroll, Ted Prince, David Marquet, and Ben Lichtenwalner.

Interview with Kristen Hadeed – Founder and CEO of Student Maid

Kristen is a great leader who has built an incredible culture at her company – a culture that has resulted in tremendous growth and a retention rate that is 15 times better than the industry average!  This whole interview is fantastic, full of gems for anyone in a leadership position.

Below are some highlights:

1:10 – The Student Maid story
2:35 – An overview of the culture that results in a retention rate that is 15 times the industry average
6:15 – Creative ways to increase employee engagement
8:49 – The importance of developing people, even for low skill positions
10:35 – Helping employees develop an ownership mentality
12:39 – Ideas for great communication that builds high levels of trust
20:25 – Kristen’s inspiring view of the essence of leadership

To learn more about Kristen and Student Maid, please visit her website – 

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What Can I Give? – A Powerful Question for Being a Great Leader

Want an extremely simple way to dramatically improve your effectiveness as a leader?

Start thinking in terms of what you can give the people you lead instead of what you can get out of them.

To go from being just a “manager” to being a leader, we should shift our mentality from being a taskmaster to being a mentor.

If we’re doing our job as a manager, it should be a given that we set clear expectations for our people and let them know that we’ll hold them accountable to meeting those expectations.  But that definitely shouldn’t be where we focus our energy.

We should focus our energy on finding ways that we can help our people to be happier, both at work and away from work, and to continuously grow both personally and professionally.

We should know what goals and aspirations our people have, both at work and away from work, and do whatever we can to help our people reach those goals (provided they are positive of course).

What happens when we personally invest in the development and well-being of our people?

For one, by truly caring about our people and consistently demonstrating that we care, we build influence.  People want to do great things not because of fear of reprisal if they don’t do them, but because they don’t want to let us down.

We also build a culture of trust and service that people want to be around.  This is a simple way to gain one of the few competitive advantages that still remain in today’s business world – the ability to attract and retain top talent.  One company that has been proving this for years is nextjump, which had a 0.2% hire rate last year (almost 18,000 applications for 35 positions) and has almost no turnover.  Their stated reason for existing as a company, their “Why”, is “To do the little things that allow others to do the great things they are meant to do.”

Most important in the grand scheme of things it that we find we’re happier and enjoy going to work more.  Being a mentor who helps people achieve greatness is much more rewarding and meaningful than being only a manager.

What are some ways you are helping your people to be happier and continuously grow?

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Interview with Chad Paris – Founder and CEO of Parisleaf


This is a video interview with Chad Paris – CEO and CRO (Chief Relationship Officer) of Parisleaf, a socially-conscious design firm. Chad believes authenticity is not the key to success in the workplace, but ground zero for where a successful business model should begin. Practicing authenticity with his colleagues has produced immense results mentally, spiritually, and financially.

Some highlights of the interview include:

4:00 – The company was founded with an social cause in mind.  Chad talks about how they plant trees for every order and every social media follower.

8:00 – Chad describes some incredible business outcomes that he attributes to empowering employees, authenticity in the workplace, and focusing his energy on making Parisleaf a fun place to work.

13:05 – Great examples of empowering employees.

20:00 – Some inspiring examples of the effects of a great workplace culture.

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Hope for our Future Restored

The tremendous hope I have for our future has been restored once again.

I spent last week in Atlanta at the National Conference for the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities (APCA), where I presented to college students and their advisors.

I met many, many people over the course of the week.  And, as usual, I didn’t bother with the Where are you from? What do you do? type of questions.  I went right to what matters to me and asked, “What is your name and what are you most passionate about?” 

Although I didn’t formally record the answers in a scientific way, I feel pretty confident in saying that around 60-70% of the students I met answered that question with some variation of, “I’m most passionate about helping others.”

I heard many inspiring examples of how these young people are actively engaged in serving their communities and focusing their energy not on how they can get more stuff or have more fun, but on how they can help the people around them and make our world a better place.  

They seemed so wise beyond their years, already aware of the truth that the most joyful, meaningful life we can live is one that is devoted to service.

I had the good fortune of meeting one student from Northwestern State University of Louisiana who mentioned that he had a written an essay on how serving St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has absolutely changed his life.  I’ve included this essay below.  It is very inspiring, includes some great lessons on leadership, and is well worth the read.


(As a side note, Michael would love to work for St. Jude in Dallas after he graduates this May.  If you know anyone there who could help him do that, please let me know.  He has an impressive resume, which I will gladly forward on to you.)

Leading as a Servant and Inspiring Change

Michael Ryan Stephenson

Growing up, I had many thoughts about what leadership meant. I thought that leadership meant having power, rank or distinction. I thought in order to be a good leader, one had to rule with an iron fist or be able to persuade people to do what they wanted them to do. I thought that leadership was about “I” and not “we.” Through St. Jude and in my growth as a person, I now know that those definitions are completely false. Because of St. Jude, I’ve learned that in order to become a good leader, one must first become a good servant. This new found definition of what leadership truly means has completely changed my life, guides my work and drives my passion. St. Jude has given me many things in addition to a new insight and perspective on leadership. It has given me the ability to realize my own leadership potential, it has given me transferable skills that I will use for the rest of my life and, most importantly, it has given me purpose. In all cases, St. Jude has helped me develop into a better leader.

Upon entering college, I was always involved but never in a capacity where I was seen as the leader of the group. I served on committees and participated in a variety of activities, but by no means considered myself a leader or thought that I could be. After getting involved with Up ‘til Dawn at Northwestern State, I started to realize that I could in fact be a leader. From serving on a committee to serving as Executive Director, St. Jude has allowed me the opportunity to unlock the leader within myself and has given me the faith and confidence to know that I can make a difference. UTD has given me the ability to become known as a trusted leader and a valuable resource to many facets of campus life. It makes me proud to automatically be associated with St. Jude and know that the organization has become notable on my campus. My involvement with St. Jude has also given me confidence in other aspects of my involvement. Because of that confidence and my new perspective on leadership, my fraternity elected me President and I have been inducted into two leadership honor societies. St. Jude has definitely been a springboard for my collegiate career and life. I do not think it is possible to understand how much this has meant to me and has helped with my development. It has given something that cannot be seen on a resume or in a portfolio – a new beginning.

St. Jude has given me a skill set that can be applied to many different areas of my life and future. It has developed and fine-tuned my communication, organizational and networking skills. The year-round work that goes into planning and executing an UTD finale event takes lots of communication. I have learned to effectively communicate with others within the campus and local community in order to create awareness and solicit help for the event. This has put me in many different positions – speaking in front of student groups, at city hall meetings and at school sponsored events. The ability to speak in front of large crowds and, more importantly, the ability to capture the hearts of people in order to make them feel conviction about something as special as St. Jude is invaluable. Before working with this organization, I would have never been able to do that. Organizationally speaking – the skills that revolve around event planning is one of my most valued skills gained from this organization. No matter what you do, the ability to manage people, time and resources is going to be a useful skill. The networking experience I now have is tremendous. It is so important to build a network, socially and professionally, and I have developed the skills to do that. Without realizing it, working to raise support and awareness for St. Jude has given me many tangible and intangible life skills that I was not expecting but value more than anything.

Most importantly, working with St. Jude has given me something that most search a lifetime for – a purpose. Before working with St. Jude, I felt like I had no real direction in life. I was lost and just going through the motions. Because of this outstanding organization, I have discovered my purpose in life – to help others through service. In particular, it has given me the aspiration to work in a non-profit setting that benefits children. In the words of our founder Danny Thomas, “all of us are born for a reason, but all of us do not discover why. Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others. ” Knowing that I have a higher calling has filled me with a joy that is often hard to express in words. I know that I am important. I know that I exist for a reason. I know that I can inspire change.

Gandhi once said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.” This is not something that I just believe – it is something that is now intertwined in my heart and being. It is amazing to think how one single event, UTD coming to Northwestern State, can change the course of your life forever, but I am fortunate to be involved with this cause and to now intern for St. Jude. It has been my pleasure to work with this organization and I hope to continue to learn more about myself as I further develop as a leader though raising support and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research.

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Enhance Both Communication and Learning

Every day we are bombarded with messages that we don’t agree with.  The resulting conversation might sound something like this: “I think this is the better way.”  “No way!  My way is better!”  
What is your habitual reaction to ideas you don’t agree with?  
I know what mine is.  I want to correct what I see as an obvious error, and point out why my idea is correct.
Unfortunately, when we immediately resist ideas that don’t seem correct to us, we are cutting ourselves off from many opportunities, and we might be creating interactions that end up looking like the one below.  If we are in a leadership position, we are also conditioning our people to avoid sharing ideas with us.  This can be devastating to the performance of our team.
A new habit I’ve been working on whenever I hear an idea that I disagree with is to simply say, “That’s an interesting way of looking at that.  Could you tell me more?”
There are several interesting results to this approach.
First, we get exposed to a whole new way of approaching an issue.  So, even if we still don’t agree once we’ve heard more, our minds are a bit more open to other possibilities.  This can help us to be more creative.
Second, the person with whom we’re communicating will feel heard.  This results in them being more open to our view (should we decide to share it).
Third, communicating in this way builds trust and deepens our influence with the person.

All of this makes it much easier to lead.  We are sending the message to our people that we will always at least listen to and respect their ideas.  This is absolutely essential if we want to have a team that is creative and innovative.

Finally, if the idea is really not a good one, people will often realize it for themselves as they talk it out.  And, some great innovations have been based on ideas that weren’t so good on their own, but amazing when integrated with another idea.
What are ways that you get people to share more about ideas that you don’t agree with?

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The Power of Humility and Listening

A great example of a young leader transforming his campus by being a humble, servant leader.  This story begins at the 11:30 point in the video, lasts for about a minute and continues for a couple minutes more at the 23:00 point.

In addition to Ben’s story, there are many great learning points in this interview with Dr. Stuart Rayfield of Columbus State University in Columbus, GA.  She runs the Servant Leadership Program there, and offers some great examples of how students are improving their campus, their satisfaction in life, and their prospects for future employment by applying the principles of servant leadership.  Dr. Rayfield is also a great example of humility herself.


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Interview with an Inspiring Student Leader – Francisco Ramirez

This is an interview with an inspiring student leader named Francisco Ramirez, who is devoted to serving others and is out there changing our world both as a great example of a servant leader and as a social entrepreneur.

He was a guest at Stanford the day of the interview.  He took a break outside to speak with me.


If you’d like to see the video he mentions of the service project in New Orleans, here’s the link.

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