What is this meeting about?

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What is this meeting about?

by Lisa King

Several years ago, when I was a Vice President in a dynamic, growing retail organization, I learned a valuable lesson that would dramatically change the expectations I had of my boss.

The retailer was on the verge of going public and the parent company had recently hired a new Chief Marketing Officer. I was eager to establish credibility with my new boss and get him up to speed on our marketing strategy, media plan, and the outstanding efforts of my staff. We had several meetings together and things were going very well it seemed.

I always came prepared to each meeting with all the necessary materials and answered all my new boss’s questions easily.

A few weeks later, after he felt more familiar with our overall marketing strategy, he asked that I set up a meeting with all of Marketing and Merchandising. I quickly agreed, sent out the invites, and set up the room “classroom style” for over 50 people. Myself and two of the other leaders in Marketing sat at a table in the front of the room with an empty seat left for our CMO. He arrived 10 minutes late to the meeting, strolling in, saying hello to people by name, and cracking jokes. The energy in the room was elevated and he clearly had the attention and excitement of the group. He sat down in the empty seat next to me, leaned over and whispered “What is this meeting about?” I froze. I expected HIM to define the purpose of the meeting and present his brilliant vision to the room full of eager listeners. I replied, “Um…I’m not sure. You just asked that I set it up.” Quick on his feet, he turned to the audience and said a few introductory remarks and then said, “I’d like to take this opportunity to have Lisa walk you all through our Marketing strategy.” Several emotions raced through me, but mostly I was shocked and felt very underprepared. Normally, if I were running a meeting, I would be thoroughly prepared with an agenda, a compelling presentation, and take-aways for all attendees. Instead, I sat with a blank notebook in front of me, mouth agape. All the eyes in the room were on me. I gathered my composure, reminded myself that I was clearly the most knowledgeable person in the room on our current Marketing strategy, and launched into an overview.

I left the meeting disillusioned and angry. I didn’t know what my new boss’s intentions were and my expectations of him were shattered.

When he asked me to set up the meeting, I assumed that he had a plan, therefore I did not prepare. I was rattled and felt I presented poorly, while he was at ease and almost magical in the way he could capture the attention of the room. I simmered in my anger for a bit, then the hard truth hit me. I didn’t seek to understand what my new boss needed from me. It wasn’t his failure, it was mine. I had a lot to learn from his strengths. He was always nimble in the moment and presented brilliantly. I also recognized that I could bring some structure to the meetings, prepare presentations, and move initiatives forward alongside him. I could use my strengths to support him and fill gaps.

His entrepreneurial free spirit combined with my strategic approach proved to be a winning combination.

I learned to manage upward by creating the narrative and strategy. He taught me to be nimble in the moment and to trust my gut. Being uber-prepared didn’t always serve the need in the moment. Together we achieved the company’s most successful years of financial vendor support for our marketing efforts.

Fast forward many years later, I was working with another company and attending an event with a new celebrity partner with whom we had recently launched a new furniture line. In a room of over 300 people, my company was recognized as the newest partner and the celebrity surprised me by asking that I come to the front of the room to say a few words. As I navigated my way to the stage to stand next to this former super-model and address the room, I chuckled to myself and said a private thank you to my former boss. He had prepared me for this moment.

We often have very high expectations of our leaders.

We may expect them to pave the way for us, provide crystal clear guidance, deliver strategic direction, and set us up for success. The truth is, we own the responsibility for our personal success as leaders. It wasn’t until I altered my expectations of myself that I was open to learn and grow in unexpected ways. Up until that point in my career, all my leaders had given me exactly what I needed. When he did not, it proved to be exactly what I really needed.

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