What does Peter Drucker say about effective leadership and the role of meetings? The father of modern management provides the following advice for leadership effectiveness:
1. Determine what needs to be done.
2. Determine the right thing to do for the welfare of the entire organization.
3. Develop action plans that specify desired results, probable restraints, future revisions,
check-in points, and implications for how one should spend one’s time.
4. Take responsibility for decisions.
5. Take responsibility for communicating action plans, and give people the information they
need to get the job done.
6. Focus on opportunities rather than problems, and treat change as an opportunity rather than
7. Run productive meetings. Different types of meetings require different forms of
preparation and different results. Prepare accordingly.
8. Think and say “we” rather than “I.” Consider the needs and opportunities of the
organization before thinking of your own opportunities and needs.
9. Listen first; speak last.
Drucker believed rules 1 and 2 provide the knowledge leaders need, rules 3 through 6 help leaders convert knowledge into effective action, rules 7and 8 ensure that the whole organization feels responsible and accountable, and rule 9 should be a leadership commandment.*1
Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.
Peter Drucker said the most effective business executive he had ever known was Alfred Sloan, who achieved results through communication, delegation, and accountability. Sloan spent most of his time meeting with individuals and groups. At the beginning of the meeting, he identified the purpose. He then listened intently. He never took notes and rarely spoke except to clarify a confusing point. In the end, he summed up and thanked people. Then he immediately wrote a short memo summarizing the discussion, conclusions, and work assignments decided upon. He specified deadlines and sent a copy to everyone who had been present. It was through follow-up memos—each a small masterpiece—that Sloan made himself into an outstanding executive.2
Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. led the rise of General Motors in the 20th century. He was known for his mastery of abstract vision and mundane details. Sloan’s vision was five separate car brands and five price ranges for five different types of customers. At the same time, Sloan focused on the details to achieve this vision as an engineer at heart. How did Sloan lead General Motors to the top of the automobile world for 70 years? Effective meeting management was a principal tool.
In Contrast – How Not to Conduct a Meeting
Fifty people from all over the country arrived the night before, but it’s 9:30 a.m. when the nine o’clock sales meeting begins. The welcome message from the president was naturally delayed until he arrived. But waiting for the president is not only polite, it’s smart, and what’s a half-hour? Actually, for 50 people it’s 25 hours or three full days of selling time.
“Folks,” says the president, “good morning and welcome to home base. I don’t want to take any of your valuable time, but I asked Artie if I could say a few words before you get down to work. I know it will be a fruitful and busy day for you who are, in my opinion, the most important asset this company has. Welcome! I’m sorry I can’t spend time with each of you, but I’ve got to catch a plane.” And the president leaves, smiling to the applause of the sales force who give him a standing ovation, principally because the chairs haven’t arrived yet.
“Team,” says Artie the sales manager, “you’ve heard from our president; now let’s get down to business. But to use the time until the tables and chairs arrive, I have a few housekeeping announcements. The coffee break will be at 10:30 a.m. instead of 10:00 a.m., so make note of that on your agenda.”
“I didn’t get an agenda,” someone says.
“Those of you who got an agenda can share it,” says Artie, and continues.
“Although our president has already set the tone of this meeting, I want to add a few words before we get down to the nitty-gritty. You people represent the finest sales organization in our industry. Why? Because your company demands and gets, selling skills and performance above and beyond the call of duty. That’s why at this year’s meeting, there are so many new faces.”
“Artie, a question please?” comes a plea from the group.
“Sure, Joe, fire away. But before you do, for the benefit of the new people, let me tell them who you are. Folks, Joe is our representative in the Midwest who is doing one heck of a job. Really knows the market, his customers, and the product. How long have you been knocking ‘em dead for the company, Joe? Four years? Five?”
“Eight months,” says Joe.
“Oh yeah, right. Now, what’s the question?
“Are we going to talk about the competition today?”
“You’re worried about what the competition is doing right now?”
“What they’re doing right now,” says Joe.
“You tell me. What is the competition doing now?” Artie is smirking.
“What the competition is doing right now,” says Joe, “Is calling on our customers while we’re in this meeting.3
Meeting Management Checklist
There are many important reasons for having meetings—strategic planning, problem-solving, information sharing, training activities, and team building. For the most effective meetings, use the following checklist. These recommendations may be adjusted to apply to virtual meetings. Often there is nothing more helpful than a checklist.
ABC’s For Planning and Conducting a Meeting
A. Before the Meeting
Think about the purpose of the meeting. What do you want to accomplish? Make an agenda reflecting these goals. Limit topics of discussion to a number that can reasonably be handled in one session. An agenda helps people prepare and reduces anxiety. Also, it provides a tool for conducting the meeting.
Invite participants. Schedule the meeting far enough in advance to allow time to plan and prepare. Schedule a private and comfortable meeting place that will be free from interruptions.
Inform participants of the nature of the meeting and their expected roles. Examples:
Participant 1: Provide expert testimony and supporting data.
Participant 2: Lead discussion if the leader falters or is absent.
Participant 3: Share ideas and participate in the discussion.
Participant 4: Take attendance; record and distribute minutes.
Prepare equipment and materials. Is internet access needed? What about a screen and computer or computer notebooks? Do you need a flip chart and markers? Should you provide pencils and notepads?
Plan the seating arrangement and prepare name cards. This shows the meeting is important to you. The attitude will be contagious, causing participants to give their best efforts. Name cards can also help in human engineering. You may want quiet members of the group to sit next to people who will encourage them to talk. Overly vocal participants should sit on your blind side so that you can ignore them if necessary without hurting their feelings. People who do not get along should not sit face to face. People who are friends and like to talk should sit apart. Strong supporters, good problem solvers, and natural leaders should occupy the corners.
A circular conference table provides an ideal seating arrangement for group dynamics. With this format, everyone can have equal access to everyone else.
Consider refreshments. Coffee, tea, juice, and fruit create a positive atmosphere.
B. During the Meeting
Allow participants time to get acquainted and comfortable. Introduce people who do not know each other.
Start the meeting as close as possible to the scheduled time; never end the meeting after the scheduled closing time if at all possible.
Focus the group. State the subject of the meeting, give necessary background, list objectives to be achieved, outline the method or procedure, and begin.
Follow the agenda; keep discussion on topic. Encourage group participation by exchanging ideas, asking questions, and preventing monopolization. Keep the meeting moving.
Share opinions and ideas openly. Be factual, specific, and clear when you speak, but never dogmatic. Use available data to support your statements.
Neither dominate the discussion, nor remain passive. The goal is to gain as much involvement as possible from all participants. Every member of the group should make at least one contribution at every meeting—provide ideas, facilitate discussion, take notes, ask questions, etc.
Understand the needs and goals of different types of people. Use this knowledge to avoid personal rivalries. When you must deny a request, reject the idea, not the person. Be tolerant of divergent views, but remain in control.
Delegate effectively. Through delegation, you can keep everyone involved and improve group effectiveness. Ask others to serve as recorder, arrange a meeting, or gather data, according to their interests and the needs of the situation.
Before ending the meeting, summarize accomplishments and actions to be taken by whom and when. Communicate the action plan.
Debrief the meeting by asking participants to evaluate its effectiveness on four criteria—pace, relevance, value, and participation. Use a scale of 1 to 10, and use results to improve future meetings.
C. After the Meeting
Save notes and handouts, and electronic data sites discussed during the meeting.
Summarize information while it’s fresh—discussions, conclusions, and work assignments including deadlines.**
In 1948, Ken Benne identified positive meeting member roles, such as encourager and harmonizer, and negative roles, such as slacker and blocker. They inspired a useful template of personalities and how to handle them, in the “Community Zoo.” The Community Zoo shows how people are like animals, each with its own nature and potential to contribute. Consider the rabbits, lions, and turtles in your meetings, and capitalize on the different needs and interests of each. Take steps to channel his or her efforts to help the group succeed.
The Community Zoo4
ELEPHANT—Elephants always remember the bad things, so utilize this talent by asking, “What could we have done differently?”
ROOSTER—Tell roosters to be quiet until the timing is right. Roosters need attention, so give it to them by letting them make announcements.
PARROT—Parrots are like roosters but with lots of color, so put them in PR.
RABBIT—Rabbits are full of energy, so give them something to do. Also, have meetings with an agenda, or they will jump from topic to topic.
HOUND DOG—Hound dogs are loyal and they lie by the fire, so remind them of the group’s purpose, give them a scent, and say, “Let’s go.”
ALLIGATOR—Alligators usually won’t bother you unless provoked; then they snap your leg off. If possible, work around the sensitivities and sore spots of alligators.
OSTRICH—The ostrich avoids, avoids, avoids…sticking its head in the sand to deny reality. The ostrich won’t pay attention until touched personally, so touch them personally. Then they will move fast.
LEMMING—Lemmings don’t think for themselves. Conformity is their nature, so be sure they are hanging out with the right crowd and going in the right direction.
LION—The lion wants to be king. Recognition and the chance to influence events are especially important to the lion, so give him or her importance.
TURTLE—Turtles don’t go anywhere until they stick their necks out, so ask for ideas and reward risk-taking behavior. Appreciate their talent for persistence and survival.
MONKEY—Monkeys are very smart, but what they like to do is play, so make work play. Capitalize on their tendencies to be creative and solve problems by turning work into a challenge and a chance to have a good time.
BUZZARD—Buzzards won’t initiate work, but they pick on everyone else’s bones, so channel buzzards to handle important details that can’t be overlooked.
SHARK—Sharks kill things. The secret is to get them to attack the right things, so get your sharks lined up and committed to the right objectives.
As a practical measure, consider your own workgroup or organization, and ask, Who is playing positive versus negative meeting member roles? Who is providing encouragement, harmony, new ideas? Take the time to let members know how important they are to the group’s success, and how appreciated they are for their efforts. Be specific and personal if you want to reinforce these helpful behaviors. Above all, be sure that your own actions are positive and constructive. For example, where a negative artist may complain about the wind, the effective leader adjusts the sails. This positive example is instructive and helpful for all.
*Note: Peter Drucker wrote most of his 39 books between the ages of 65 and 95. See especially The Practice of Management, The Effective Executive, and The Essential Drucker.
**Note: There are 55 million meetings a day in the U.S. Suggested reading—Steven Rogelberg, The Surprising Science of Meetings (Oxford University Press, 2019).
1. Recommendations from “What Makes an Effective Executive,” by P.F. Drucker, June 2004, pp. 58-63, as cited in A. Kinicki and B. Williams, Management, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013), p. 453.
2. J. Flaherty and P. Drucker, Shaping the Managerial Mind (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002).
3. J. Lavenson, “Meeting the Issue,” Selling Made Simple (Sales and Marketing Management, 1973).