how good leaders get shit done

It is well past lunch time, and yet the meeting drags on. Tom from accounting has been listening to himself talk for almost an hour, and even he is starting to lose the thread. You have graduated from secretly checking the time on your cell phone to staring shamelessly at the clock on the wall. We’ve all been there: the meeting that veers off track, leaving everyone wondering what, if anything, has been accomplished. This is where a good leader steps in and takes the reigns. Here are a few sure-fire methods for getting shit done, no matter how much Tom from accounting likes to hear himself talk:

1. Have an objective walking in

Without a clear destination, you are bound to get lost. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people try to run meetings without defining an objective and holding everyone accountable for that objective. This isn’t a mistake that only new leaders make; some of the best leaders I know still struggle with a tendency to let meetings wander around a point. For fast-growing firms like ours where targets are moving and priorities often overlap, it takes a strong leader with clear goals to paint the bigger picture of a company’s future and to hold the company accountable for that vision, one meeting at a time.

2. Minimize agenda items

Quality always trumps quantity. Pick two or three agenda items maximum per meeting—any more and you’ll lose the quality of your team’s focus on the things that really matter. Besides, lesser priorities often disappear once you’ve solved the big-picture problems.

3. Get clear

Clarity is a two-way street. No matter how well you think you are defining your terms, you aren’t “getting clear” until the other half of the conversation fully understands them. A good tactic for confirming clarity is to ask your team to repeat important information back to you, or to summarize a conversation’s main points. You’d be surprised how often the smile-and-nod response conceals confusion, but by requiring active listening and engaged responses from each team member, you can avoid most misunderstandings. Take full accountability for clarity of speech and clarity of understanding, and you will set your team up for success.

4. Stay on point

Group-think is notoriously scatterbrained. We might have to drift outside the box to come up with creative solutions to tough problems, but to put those solutions in motion, we can’t let the box drift away. The goal is not to stifle creativity or diversity of thought, but to ensure that all detours work toward the meeting’s ultimate objective. If you do not guard the goal, you create space for hijackers to step in and promote their own irrelevant agendas. Help your team stay on point by asking wayward team members to consider how their contributions create solutions that serve the meeting’s objective.

5. Create actionable take-aways

The meeting was a success. You got clear with your team about the meeting’s objectives, came up with a few rock-star solutions, and now everyone is patting each other on the back and heading for the door. Not so fast, killer. A meeting’s success depends entirely on how well your team is able to follow through. Everyone may understand what needs to be done to fix a problem, but unless everyone understands their role in the solution, the plan unravels. Give them marching orders. Assign tasks to individuals (rather than to the team in general), and set a deadline for task-accomplishment. A meeting cannot be productive without actionable take-aways that push the agenda of meeting forward into the future.