In the early 1990s when the word “clueless” was popular and I was in my early days on the phones talking with customers, a peer of mine looked over at another teammate of ours and said, “Some people lead the parade, some people watch the parade, and some people don’t even know there is a parade going on.” His reference for this peer was the latter. He was saying the person was “clueless” in a descriptive manner, but he was right. The person came to work each day and many times we wouldn’t have been surprised if he didn’t know what day it was. He was in a constant fog, and seemed to let the world around pass him by. It was hard to describe, but the fog was not about attention to detail or intelligence. He seemed to come to work, do his job to the minimum (not coast, because that actually takes effort to slow down), and went home. Sometimes, I wondered if he even remembered coming to work after he left. His cluelessness could only be accurately described as not even knowing a parade was going on.
I imagine in most corporate and professional settings, your colleagues, your management, and your customers depend on you to do your job well. However, it can be more than doing well at your own job. You can be the leader of the parade. Be a leader strong enough to motivate more people to get in the parade—regardless of your position in the company. You are surrounded by people who may be coasting along professionally hoping to do no more than the minimum. You have an opportunity to maximize your own performance and the performance of others.
You can assist in leading the company by staying informed about your business, and sharing what you learn with the people around you. You can read and watch the news about industry updates, and overall national and global events. You should also stay informed with internal company news when it is available, to give you a good idea of what is going on in your surroundings. These surroundings are not just the physical space; you should also be keeping up with current events, business relationships, organizational changes, personalities, styles, idea generation methodologies, meeting preferences, and routines.
You can be part of the parade by asking questions and being curious. You can take the lead by sharing the information you’ve gained with others. The information is great for your own learning and development. You become a leader when you share your own development with others and allow the information to keep on giving. You can share stories via email, or talk about interesting business information during down times rather than discussing the most recent sitcom or sports. These types of conversations can spur new ideas for your business. You can also add to the conversation by sharing your best practices. You might call this, “Have a clue, get a clue, and share the clue.”
I have been involved in many meetings, especially conference calls, in which people were obviously not engaged. The disengaged population are often multitasking. Besides the people who readily admit they are multitasking (you would be surprised at the number of people who come right out and tell me), there are the people who don’t say a word during the entire meeting, other than to say hello in the beginning and goodbye at the end. The multitaskers also are the obvious ones who say, “Huh?” or “Can you please repeat the question,” when they hear their name directly. Some are bold enough to say, “Johnny and I were just instant messaging and I didn’t catch all of that.”
Ryan Buxton cited in 2009 a new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found that multitasking may do more harm than good. The article states, “Multitaskers are more susceptible to memory interference by irrelevant details, according to the study.” The effort to move from one topic to another and the exertion required to return where you were impacts the true retention of information gathering for multitaskers. I won’t be a hypocrite and say that I have never done it. However, since I’ve limited my multitasking, I have found myself asking what just happened in a meeting much less than I had in the past. I will say that my concentration level and my engagement has grown substantially since I made a concerted effort to concentrate on one task, one meeting, and one conversation at a time. I became more knowledgeable about what was going on and could react and take action in the conversation. Much of my success can be attributed to my effort to reduce my multitasking. I found myself taking more of a leadership role in many phone calls than I previously would have as an inactive listener.
We all have the opportunity to step up and lead the parade at times when there are stale or unproductive meetings. Although it may be difficult at first, try to professionally disregard hierarchies during the times when no one is stepping up. What I mean by this is that leaders are born during a crisis, or when there is no clear roadmap to get there. Be proactive by creating the roadmap and developing solutions yourself if they are not clearly in front of you. In a meeting, this doesn’t mean just taking over or dominating it. It means assisting with the meeting facilitation in order to achieve the purpose of that meeting. In some cases, the purpose itself is unclear. Start with questions of the audience pertaining to what they want to accomplish and massage that information until you find a clear direction. You can also lead by turning meetings into brainstorming sessions, in which you can ask open-ended questions and facilitate dialogue, as needed. Don’t wait for someone else to do it—everybody’s time is valuable and you are simply looking for that value.
If you are not leading the discussion, you can at least take an active interest in a meeting and be ready to answer questions, assist the dialogue, and offer ideas or suggestions. You are already invited to the meeting; you might as well make it productive. If you feel the meeting is not worth it or is unproductive, particularly if it is part of a long-standing series, speak up. There may be other people in the room or on the phone who feel the same way. I realize that this is easy to say, and tough to do. However, try it and you will start to gain a comfort level and see the true impact you can have. Your fellow employees will see that you are only looking out for everyone’s precious time, and this should increase their respect for your courage.
We have all most likely worked at one time or another with people who were constantly late for or missed meetings, lost track of time, derailed conversations to fulfill their self-interests, waffled at decision time, or never made a decision. All of these situations and personalities can cause frustration, confusion, and relationship tension that grows over time. However, many times, these are just the people who don’t know that the parade is going on around them and can’t even hear the band playing. Next time you are in a meeting or on a conference call with several people, look around and actively listen. Ask yourself, “Who is leading the parade, who is in the parade, and who doesn’t even know a parade is going on?” Then, choose to be one of the few to lead the parade.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby