Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Leadership Meeting

The other day I was talking with a friend who was sounding off about the lack of team work that he was experiencing and the 'every person for themselves' culture. I asked him how often they have a leadership team meeting at his company. "About every six to eight months," he said. with a sense of frustration.

This conversation about the dsyfunctional work environment coincided with my reading of Rudolph Giuliani's superb book entitled Leadership. Here is his description and reflection on his team meetings when he was mayor of New York:

"Every morning, at exactly eight o'clock, I make my mother very happy. Throughout my childhood, she would lecture me on the virtues of finishing my schoolwork before I went outside to play. It used up a lot of daylight, which always annoyed me, but as with almost everything she taught me, she turned out to be right."

"That's why I've begun every single morning since 1981 with a meeting of my top staff. The importance of the "morning meeting" cannot be overstated. In all my time as mayor, I missed very few such meetings, and then only when another commitment absolutely prevented my attendance. I consider it the cornerstone to efficient func­tioning within any system, especially a complex one."

"When I became mayor, I realized that the job could overwhelm me. Without a system for processing the day's challenges, the sheer number of issues needing my attention could easily have dictated the agenda. The main purpose of the morning meeting was to get control of the day and prevent that from happening. We could accomplish a great deal during that first hour, in large part because the lines of communication were so clear. The people who needed to reach me-like the members of any large organization who need to convey information to the chief executive-knew that their concerns could be funneled in an orderly way through their representatives at the meeting; and I could ensure that my deputies and commissioners were working off the same page and could carry a coherent message back to their staffs."

"Paul Crotty, my first Corporation Counsel, knew Mayor Wagner, Mayor Lindsay, and Mayor Beanie, and had worked for Mayor Koch before working in my administration. According to Paul, ours was the only administration that got all the commissioners to speak with one voice. He attributed that to the eight o'clock meeting. He once recounted how, in the Koch administration, a number of commissioners thought that they were empowered to make their own policy statements. After the budget was adopted, certain commissioners would go to the media during the City Council review process in an attempt to raise their department's budget, saying, "Well, if you give me some more money I can do such and such ..." In my administration, commissioners did their bargaining with the Office of Management and Budget. They could always appeal to me, but I wanted disputes settled within the family, not in the press."

"Early in my first term, some staff would try to skirt the scrutiny of other members of the administration by approaching me in private. It was one thing to have your initiative shot down by the mayor, quite another to have your peers suggesting a reason why a pet idea might not work, or a better way to go about it. Those suggestions and debunkings were often best for the city, though, and thus worth hearing. I insisted that all such plans be brought up at the morning meeting. More often than not, the others there had valuable information to contribute and could enhance the plan's chances of gaining my approval."

"The only exception to the rule about skirting the group and bringing matters directly to my attention was Denny Young, officially "Counsel to the Mayor." At every morning meeting, when his turn round the table arrived, Denny would intone the same comment, "I'll talk to you later." He performed a function different from anyone else at the table; rather than managing his own portfolio of agencies and advocating for budgets and projects, he had a single concern: protecting all of us."

"The idea was to get as much work as possible out of the way in the first hour of the day. As mayor-as with the head of any large organization-I had many people trying to reach me. I may have had thousands of employees and millions of constituents, but I had to communicate with them. Obviously, I couldn't do that directly. What I tried to do was to have at the meeting the staff through whom I could communicate to all of those people, or through whom they could communicate to me."

"Here's how the morning meeting worked. At eight o'clock, my top staff-between fifteen and twenty people-convened around a table, ready to discuss the events of the day before and to plan for the one ahead. For forty-five to ninety minutes, we proceeded clockwise around the table, each participant sharing any pertinent news regarding the departments or agencies they represented."

Source: Rudolph W Giuliani with Ken Kurso, Leadership, (London: Time Warner, 2002), 29-30.

Image: Book cover and photo of Giuliani.