3 essential leadership skills for setting the tone for any meeting

One of the greatest things you’ve got going for you in your leadership toolkit is this: You get to set the tone.

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What you say and do matters AND how you show up is what truly creates your impact. You have a meeting coming up. It may be a one-to-one, a team meeting, an interview, a talk, or a chat with your teen, and it may be in person, on the road, over pixels 3,000 miles away, or on your screen.

Whatever the case, it matters.


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You want to have an impact. You want to show up well. And you want to influence whomever you’re meeting with in a way that helps you create connection and gets you your desired outcome. Whether that outcome is landing the new client, the new role, inspiring your team to crush it on this next project, or getting your kid to listen to you because they want to versus have to, the stakes are high.

One of the greatest things you’ve got going for you in your leadership toolkit is this: You get to set the tone. Your presence IS your impact and whether you’re leading this meeting or attending it, how you show up — and the intentions, energy, and presence (your “IEP”) — you “bring” to it will influence how well people respond to you, how good you feel, and ultimately the end result.

There are three things you can do before any meeting, conversation, or project to support you in setting the tone as optimally as possible. These three things are a choice, they don’t take a lot of time or effort, and they have tremendous ROI not only at work but in the rest of your life as well if you so choose. What are they? 1) Take excellent care of yourself, 2) set yourself up to be wildly and powerfully present, and, 3) set your intentions for impact.

1. Take excellent care of yourself

While self-care is often taken for granted or postponed when we’re pinched for time, it actually creates more time, space, and energy when we do it well. (Even a little bit.)

Self-care is a leadership skill. The better resourced we are as leaders, the more thoughtful, intentional, and present we can be with those we lead. Much like the directions we receive on an airplane to “put our own oxygen mask on first” if needed (so we can help those around us), when we practice exquisite self-care we can better serve and lead others. Don’t have time to meditate or go for a run or workout or eat that gorgeously clean breakfast? No worries, what are the littlest things you can do?

Pay attention to the food you put in your body, your hydration levels, sleep, the quality of your self-talk, and your “me” time. I’ve found “self-care” does not require grand gestures — some of the most powerful forms happen in the little moments. For example, make the healthiest choice, bring your water with you, go to bed twenty minutes earlier the night before your meeting, talk nice to yourself about what you’re up to (versus beating yourself up), and find five minutes (or even one!) for yourself to get quiet, present, centered, and ready beforehand.

The amount of space and time we can create, when we’re fully resourced and proactive, saves a ton of energy and time in cleaning up the messes we might make when we’re exhausted and reactive. Walking into our engagement in this state makes for a much more pleasurable and productive meeting and unlocks greater potential for impact.

2. Set yourself up to be powerfully present

Before you even walk into your meeting or get on your call, do whatever you need to do to help you stay present with whomever you’re about to be with. Turn off your phone, let people know you’ll be unavailable for a bit, put an OOO on your email (so you’re not mentally feeling the pressure of not responding to people) — whatever it takes to free your focus and be fully “there.”

Then, it’s go-time: Take a breath, get centered, set your intention for how you want to feel and show up, and be in this moment. Presence is a decision. The minute we realize we’re not present, we have a choice: get present and be here now, or get overwhelmed and join the swirl. Bonus, not only does presence create more trust and credibility for YOU — it’s contagious; presence begets more presence.

Set the tone; your people will meet you there.

3. Set your intentions for impact

Our intentions can make or break our effectiveness and often take us well beyond what we thought originally possible. They keep us focused – if done well they inspire – and they also honor the human beings we lead.

You’re about to head into a meeting to spend a part of your life force, time, and energy together — five minutes or five hours, make it count. What are your intended outcomes? What do you want to walk away with? How do you want to feel? How do you want them to feel? What does success look like? For a framework (IEP Method®) on how to create a profoundly effective and intentional impact, there are some resources shared below. When your intentions are clear, your energy is clean, and you’re present — you have the foundation for creating intentional positive impact and life-giving results.

Show up, set the tone, and get after it.

Learn more about leveraging three areas of leadership for optimizing presence and impact in the books Contagious Culture: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization that Thrives (McGraw-Hill, 2015) and Contagious You: Unlock Your Power to Influence, Lead, and Create the Impact You Want (McGraw-Hill, Fall 2019). For more on the author and the IEP Method®, as well as free resources to support your leadership impact, check out anesecavanaugh.com. (Twitter: @anesecavanaugh)


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