Friday, May 31, 2013

Rumsfeld’s Rules on Meetings

“The first consideration for meetings is whether to call one at all,” says Donald Rumsfeld in his jam-packed book of wisdom, “rules” and axioms, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life.

As the CEO of two Fortune 500 companies, White House Chief of Staff for President Gerald Ford, and Defense Secretary (twice), Rumsfeld has endured more than his fair share of meetings.  Here are several rules on “Running a Meeting” from his new book:

“Pay close attention to who is invited, and for goodness sake, avoid making meetings so large that it feels you should have rented an amphitheater.”

“The default tendency in any bureaucracy, especially in government, is to substitute discussion for decision-making. The act of calling a meeting about a problem can in some cases be confused with actually doing something.”

“If you expect people to be in on the landing, include them for the takeoff.”

Rumsfeld quotes Pat Moynihan: 
“Stubborn opposition to proposals 
often has no basis other than the complaining question, 
‘Why wasn’t I consulted?’” 

“I try to pay attention to every attendee in a meeting. I like to see how they are reacting to what is being said. Sometimes you can learn as much or more from nonverbal communication as you can from what is being articulated aloud.”

“Meetings do not have to be evitable, even if they appear on everyone’s calendar. For example, when I was the CEO of G. D. Searle, a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company, a meeting was scheduled on a topic for which I had received the briefing paper only minutes in advance. I could have attended anyway and listened to people talk about something about which I had little understanding.  But why do that?
"I canceled the meeting and set it for a later date 
when other attendees and I had time to prepare.”

I’m recommending that every board chair and CEO read the “Running a Meeting” chapter in Rumsfeld’s book. (His chapters on “Thinking Strategically” and “Planning for Uncertainty” are also excellent.) Actually, the entire book (including more than 400 rules) should be required reading!

Why? Christ-centered organizations are stewards of time, talent and treasure. Yet our “evangelical niceness” too often pushes conflict under the board table, fails to address those who are unprepared, too easily forgives those with late-arriving reports, and rarely admonishes those who are late to meetings. When is the last night you cancelled a meeting—because preparation was dismal? Elton Trueblood once said, 
“Pious shoddy is still shoddy.”

QUESTION: If you asked the Lord for a give-it-to-us-straight assessment of your last board meeting, what improvements might He suggest?

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