Create a Frame for People to be Heroes

by Alan Willett

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

Oprah Winfrey

Recently, I witnessed two different ways to handle the same challenge.

I attended two meetings. The goal of each meeting was to choose a way forward that would affect many people for a long time. In each meeting, there was a very difficult confrontation between competing ideas. In both cases, the desire was to reach the decision by consensus. The decision would not be made by a leader, or by a majority vote. Everyone at the meeting needed to be able to live with the decision.

Leading up to the meetings, people had not been kind to each other in working towards the required decision. This meant that the meeting was made worse because some of the discussion wasn’t about the merit of the ideas, but more about the hard feelings people were carrying about each other.

Leader #1 handled the meeting in this way. They made sure everyone had a chance to speak. They didn’t allow interruptions. They ensured the agenda was followed. They ensured that the minutes captured the logical arguments for and against each proposed way forward.

Leader #1 ended the meeting with an accurate description of what took place. “This meeting was extremely hard. I am recognizing how strong the emotions are. Although there were many parts we agreed on, for me, it is daunting how many points of disagreement there are. This is going to be extremely hard.”

The meeting ended in silence and frowns. People left feeling dejected.

Leader#2 handled the meeting quite differently. They also followed good meeting facilitation with a clear agenda, note-taking, and ensuring that people had a chance to speak. In addition to this, before someone could talk about their point of view, Leader #2 ensured they expressed what they heard from others first. This made a big change in the dynamic of the meeting.

Leader#2 also ended the meeting with an accurate description of what took place. However, the frame was very different. Leader#2 was smiling and said “The passion of this group is amazing. We all believe so strongly that we can achieve something great together. There are absolutely parts we disagreed on. However, there were even more points we agreed on. I am especially excited about what we are going to achieve next. Every time in the past when we have had this much passion, we have created something amazing. Let’s do some more listening and creating. I look forward to our next session.”

In this meeting, people left laughing and talking. People who had argued with each other during the meeting immediately got together and started brainstorming how to merge their ideas.

Both leaders reflected what was going on accurately. It was the frame that was different. How do you frame your day? How do you frame the challenges your teams are facing?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett