Tech Leader Pro podcast 23, Turning up at meetings

Published on 2023-08-01 by John Collins. Socials: YouTube - X - Spotify - Amazon Music - Apple Podcast



Meetings are a big part of all of our lives, love them or hate them, we cannot escape them. So as they are a certainty, why not get good at them?

A major part of being a leader is giving direction: you need to point your team north, metaphorically speaking. It does not matter how hard your team work if they are pointing in the wrong direction, therefore we can say that direction is more important than velocity.

In order to set direction, you need to be a great communicator, and the forum for that communication is usually meetings. So to be an effective leader, you need to be effective at meetings.

Types of meetings

Firstly, lets look at some of the common types of meetings so you can tell them apart.

Briefings – are when you, or another leader, want to have a short meeting to delegate tasks, and set immediate goals. Briefings are largely one-way: they are used to give explicit direction. In order for a briefing to be successful, everyone needs to leave the meeting with clear context and a clear sense of direction, and it is your job as an effective communicator to set that.

Workshops – are an open forum, where everyone’s opinions are welcomed, and the outcomes are uncertain at the beginning of a meeting. Workshops are great for a leader to seek feedback on a given topic, or to seek out new solutions.

In a workshop, a leader needs to listen attentively. Listening is a life skill that makes you smarter.

One-to-one meetings – are used to listen to the concerns of a single team member. As a leader, it is your job to listen, listen, and listen. The agenda should be set by your team member, not by you, and you should avoid bringing in business as usual topics should as projects or tasks.

Fundamentally, one-to-ones are about building relationships with your team mates based on transparency and trust.

Types of meeting personas

Now that we have discussed the types of meetings, let’s discuss the types of people that might turn up to make things interesting:

The HiPPO – or the "Highest-Paid Person's Opinion", is the most senior person in a meeting that is often naturally deferred to for opinions or direction. The problem with the HiPPO is that they can often take over a meeting via the power of their status, and can steer the agenda off course.

Invite a HiPPO only as required for escalations, and if you are the HiPPO, beware that your mere presence in the meeting can influence other attendees negatively, e.g. making them uncomfortable to opening up.

The distracted – are often found working on their laptop or phone during the meeting. Their usual contribution is “can you repeat that?”, usually when their name is mentioned.

If someone if not attentive, they should not be invited next time. Be firm on this.

The chorus – like to agree with the consensus, or more likely with the HiPPO. The chorus are only slightly more useful than the distracted, insofar as at least they are listening, in spite of offering no original opinions of their own.

At worse, a powerful chorus can encourage group think, and for that reason should be avoided.

The rabbit hole diver – wants to drag the agenda into the weeds as quickly as possible, where they are comfortable. No detail is too small, no tangent is too extreme: they can quickly derail a meeting by forcing everyone to spend time talking about insignificant details.

The friend of the rabbit hole diver is verbosity, the enemy is concisely getting to their point quickly. Knowingly or unknowingly, they are achieving the same goal of running down the clock.

At best, a rabbit hole diver is a well-meaning expert who just wants to impress people with the depth of their knowledge. Usually they just require mentoring on their presentation skills, but one-to-one.

The curve-ball pitcher – is dedicated to derailment. Unlike the rabbit hole diver, the curve-ball pitcher is dedicated to the art of turning an agenda upside down: they want to bring their P1 bug to the product roadmap discussion, or raise a team morale issue in front of a large public group.

These guys are wild cards, absolute jokers, that need to be kept outside the meeting until they learn some etiquette.

The agenda pusher – wants to push the same agenda, no matter what the subject of the actual meeting they are attending. A meeting is simply a platform for them to push that agenda relentlessly.

The agenda pusher is a politician, normally concerned with self-promotion at the expense of others. The best thing to do is starve them of attention.

Setting the agenda

As a leader, you need to keep everyone aligned on the key goal of the meeting, and keep it focused on that agenda.

I like to think about the dollar rate of a meeting: if you add up the hourly rate for each attendee, the outcome of the meeting should exceed that dollar amount investment. Meetings should not be wasteful.

Your job is to listen, contemplate, engage, and challenge everyone at the meeting, but keep it civil: attack the ideas, not the people.

Also depending on the meeting type, actions may not be required at the end of the meeting. Some meetings can be inconclusive, and may require follow-up sessions to identify the right path forward.

When actions are clear however, ensure that ownership is assigned and time-lines are agreed upon.

A word about Zoom

The so-called “new normal” is Zoom video calls rather than face-to-face meetings. Here there are new challenges that require new solutions:


In conclusion, meetings are a skill you can learn and improve upon. Here are some concluding tips that you can apply to any situation:

  1. Be present and attentive. Mute your devices.
  2. Be switched on, and concentrate.
  3. Challenge where required.
  4. Ask questions when something is unclear.
  5. Have a bias for action, and drive the agenda towards closure of those actions.

In a successful meeting, you learned something new or you taught someone something new. Either way, someone should leave the meeting smarter.


Lets recap what we have covered today:

  1. Whether we love them or not, meetings are a fact of life, so we might as well get good at them.
  2. We discussed three main types of meetings: the briefing, the workshop, and the one-to-one. There are other types, but these are the main ones.
  3. We also discussed several different types of personas that can turn up at meetings: the HiPPO, the distracted, the chorus, the rabbit hole diver, the curve-ball pitcher, and the agenda pusher.
  4. If you want to get the most out of your meetings, you must keep each of these types of people in check. You must set the agenda, and keep everyone on track.
  5. As remote meetings via tools like Zoom have become so widespread, special consideration needs to be given to them in terms of logistics and ice-breaking.
  6. I shared a list of tips that can be applied to any meeting, regardless of the context.
  7. The key conclusion is that for a meeting to be considered successful, you learned something new or you taught somebody something new. Either way, someone should leave the meeting smarter.

I hope you enjoyed this episode, and I look forward to covering the next topic in this leadership series with you! In the interim if you want to follow me online, you can find my blog at, or follow me on Twitter @TechLeaderPro.

Thanks for your time, take care and have a great week!


Most meetings are actually briefings -


File details: 14.8 MB MP3, 10 mins 15 secs duration.

Title music is "Still Cold" by Crystal Shards, licensed via


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