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Dear CEO: put the phone down when your staff present to you

Blog post   •   Feb 13, 2019 08:38 +08

Leaders might have to eat last, but they should be the first to put their phones down when their staff present to them. Source: Mark Laudi

Dear CEO

Recently, a group of your staff who came to my TV studio for executive presence training shared with me a surprising frustration: when they present to you and the senior leadership team, the hardest thing is to get your attention.

They have prepared for days, sometimes weeks, for their presentation to you in your top-floor boardroom. The PowerPoint slides will have been done, checked, updated, re-done and re-checked. And finally the big day comes, they set up in the boardroom and give their presentation …only to find you and other members of the SLT are spending most of the time looking at your phones.

To some extent, one would expect that at conferences. But from you and the senior leadership team? The small but exclusive audience who all this is for?

Now, no one likes a boring, ill-prepared or self-absorbed presenter who is unable to engage their audience. The presentation has to zing. No question about that.

But assuming they are doing everything they can to wow you, is it a legitimate excuse for you and the other senior leaders to tune out of a presentation just because you are, well, senior leaders?

Let's leave aside good manners and the Asian emphasis on "giving face". The message you are sending your staff when you and the SLT don't pay attention is that you don't care – and neither should they. Is that the culture you want in your organisation?

In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek writes about the importance of devoting time and energy to your staff to build a resilient culture in which everyone pulls together:

"It's not just time. The energy we give also matters. If a parent goes to watch their kid's soccer game but looks up from their mobile device only when there is cheering, they may have given their time, but they haven't given their energy. The kid will look over to see their parent's head down most of the game, busy texting or e-mailing the office or something. Regardless of the intentions of that parent, without giving their attention, the time is basically wasted for both parent and child. The same is true in our offices when we talk to someone while reading our e-mails or sit in a meeting with one eye on our phone. We may be hearing all that is said, but the person speaking will not feel we are listening, and an opportunity to build trust – or be seen as a leader who cares – is squandered." (page 150)

And before you argue that you can multitask, paying attention to both your staff's presentation and your emails, Sinek debunks this, too. People who say they are good at multitasking are demonstrably less productive. But that's another story.

If you are the CEO who is the focus of my column:

  1. Put the phone down, and focus on the staff presenting to you.
  2. Encourage your SLT to do so too. Better still, ban phones from the conference room.
  3. If your staff's presentations waste your time, send them for training, or do away with presentations altogether. You can't afford to damage the culture of your organisation by letting presentations continue the way they are.

Best wishes

Mark

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