The impression a leader makes on others contributes to his success in leading them. This impression is the sum of a leader’s outward appearance, demeanor, actions, and words.
- ADRP 6-22
Reflecting on my 17 years of active service, there one item I wish I had learned in the military’s professional military education (PME) program. How to run a meeting. Running a meeting is a distinct skill, and should be taught to our officers and non-commissioned officers throughout their careers.
Every officer, in nearly every position will run a meeting. Platoon sergeants, platoon leaders and company commanders run training meetings. Executive officers run staff meetings. Action officers at every level run their own internal staff meetings. Operational and strategic planners run Operational Planning Teams (OPTs). Within joint commands, every J-code runs some kind of Board, Bureau, Center, Cell, or Working Group (B2C2WG) within the command’s battle rhythm. More often than not, and for better or worse, leaders learn to run these meetings by way of mentors or self-learning.
The Army defines three attributes of a leader within leadership doctrine (ADRP 6-22). These traits are character, intellect, and presence. The ability to run a meeting relates to the latter two. An individual may have presence in front of a formation, but can rapidly lose confidence of his or her staff when they flail through a meeting. Often, fumbling through a meeting where the outcome is nothing of consequence can deflate the morale of anyone in attendance.
A leader’s first impression on members of his or her team can often occur at a meeting. Further, a meeting may be where an individual has their touch points with their rater and senior raters. Failing to run a meeting properly, either by having no purpose, not controlling the tempo or topics of conversations, allowing one “A type” personality to dominate discussion, or not sticking to timelines can harm a leaders reputation within a command.
At the tactical level, Army doctrine does discuss the importance of training meetings. ADPR 7-0 refers to the training meeting as “the single most important meeting for managing training in brigades, battalions, and companies.” TC 25-30, A Leaders Guide to Training Meetings does discuss some inner working of unit training meetings, focusing on the company level. It is a useful guide for those looking to understand training meetings, but useless in the development of leadership skills required to actually run the meeting.
On the positive side, there is some level of recognition in the joint force, that organizing meetings within a battle rhythm, each with a distinct purpose that eventually leads to flag officer touch points is paramount to a command’s success. The Joint enabling Capabilities Command (JECC), located in Norfolk Virginia hosts a knowledge management course where tools such as the 7-minute drill and skills such as battle rhythm analysis are taught. Indeed, officers skilled in assisting a command’s chief of staff to organize a battle rhythm are in high demand.
Other options to improve a leader’s ability to run a meeting include operational planning teams is the Red Team University at Fort Leavenworth. Although the objective of the Red Team School is to promote critical thinking, and create leaders who can provide alternative analysis, the techniques taught at the course are certainly applicable to OPT leadership and overcoming toxic personalities in meetings. Further, leaders throughout the joint force should seek self-improvement in their ability to run a meeting through various business literature such as Harvard Business Review.
Each of the services should consider adapting the tactics, techniques, and procedures of the JECC’s knowledge management enterprise. Moreover, emphasizing the skills and abilities it takes to run an efficient meeting through a NCO and officers professional military education. The joint force and services can start with distance learning through joint knowledge online (JKO), as a prerequisite prior to arriving at a command. Moreover, commanders at the tactical level should use time and resources to develop this skill in their junior leaders. Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Professional development programs should reach out to experts in the business community to teach running a meeting to junior leaders (and in many cases senior leaders).
Based solely on my observations over the past 22 years in the military, our educational model should adopt a method to teach leaders at all levels the science and art of running a meeting.