Picture this. You’re moving into a new leadership role and are having one on one meetings with each of your new team members to build your understanding of the organization. You’re looking forward to today’s meeting with the lead of your operational team. It’s a big part of your organization and you are keen to learn about the priorities and challenges. Fifteen minutes prior to the meeting start time, your boss calls you in to a meeting with the CFO to discuss budget plans for your department. You quickly ask your assistant to reschedule your meeting with your team member and rush to the budget meeting.
Over the next two weeks, the budget process escalates, and your time is not your own. You want to meet with your new team members but feel that you have to get clarity on the budget first and because there’s a lot at stake for the future. You ask your assistant to juggle your calendar.
Then picture it this way. You have a meeting scheduled today with your new boss. You are looking forward to working with a female leader; she has a great reputation in the company, and you are hopeful that you can build a strong rapport with her. You’ve prepared your materials and tried to anticipate the questions that she is likely to ask. You even had a quick out loud rehearsal of how you want to start the conversation on your drive into the office this morning. You are ready.
Fifteen minutes before the meeting is scheduled to start, her assistant emails you to say that your meeting has to be rescheduled because something else has come up. Although you’re disappointed, you understand that her schedule is busy. The meeting is rescheduled for next week, deferred again and finally arranged as a fifteen-minute phone call two weeks after the original date.
How would you feel if you got this call to reschedule?
Transitioning into a new role is challenging. That’s where the old expression “drinking from a firehouse” is so apt. There’s a lot to take in, you want to appear to get up to speed right away and you probably feel pressure to have an impact quickly. You want to develop a strong rapport with your boss, your colleagues and your team. It’s hard to decide which one to focus on first.
While your decision to prioritize your meeting with your boss made perfect sense to you in the moment, you missed an important opportunity to build trust with your team.
When you rescheduled it the first time, although she was disappointed, your team member understood that you were busy, and she knew it was budget time. However, by the time the meeting actually happened two weeks later, she had started second guessing your intentions. She felt that you must not be very interested in operations and began to believe that you must be much more on impressing your boss than on building relationships with the team. She might even have decided you were a bit aloof as all of the communication came from our assistant.
Imagine how different her perception would have been if you had walked into her office as soon as you realized you had to defer your meeting and said, “I am so sorry, but I have to defer our meeting. There’s a budget discussion that I feel that I must attend. I feel badly because I am sure that you spent time preparing for it and I know that you are very busy too. I am going to ask my assistant to reschedule our conversation because it’s important to me and I want to take lots of time to understand your team’s work.” Having this honest and open conversation shows your team member that you do in fact care about the impact that the small act of deferring a meeting has on those around you. It shows empathy and it builds trust.
So, the next time you find yourself canceling a meeting or shifting your priorities for the day, give a thought to the impact that it will have on others. You probably will still have to cancel it, but how you do it matters a lot.