“Be prepared every time you take your leader’s time.”
One of the most influential books I read during my Air Force career was John C. Maxwell’s book entitled The 360 Degree Leader. I remember when this book came out and how I devoured it. I needed to learn how to grow as a leader when I wasn’t highest ranking person in the room. The military is a rank heavy system and whoever is senior in rank generally has all the leadership influence. I wanted to learn how to be a better influencer from even a lower rank than some. I was working in an environment that literally had a global impact and wanted to be more than a technician. This book helped me go from setting tables and getting coffee to sitting at the table and drinking coffee, making critical decisions with senior leaders and having the same authority. One of the reasons I had a seat at the table was that I went prepared every time I spoke to or asked questions of those in leadership above me.
Time is priceless. When a leader gives you time, that means they are inviting you to the table, because they see your value and potential. Maybe the leader sees you as an expert in your field and wants your advice on a project. Many times, I asked for my leader’s time for mentoring purposes. I wanted to grow as a leader and to learn how they thought, so I could better serve them in the future.
Whatever the reason for meeting with your leaders, preparing to meet them is critical. Why? It may be the only time you get this meeting with them. For the average person, never seeing the leader or being invited to the leader’s office is a relief. For growth-minded people, this meeting is an opportunity – that one moment they have been waiting for – to glean some secret wisdom and impress the leader, in hopes of growing a mentoring relationship. Failure to prepare for this meeting lets the leader know that you don’t value their time or yours.
How do you prepare for a meeting with a leader? First, determine the purpose of the meeting. A mentoring session or a personal request from you is very different from a project meeting. Be very clear on why you are meeting with the leader. To request a mentoring session, be prepared by studying everything there is to know about the leader. Read their books, articles, videos, and current events about them. Ask questions of the people you know who have met with the leader. Prepare great questions that go beyond what you studied. Make sure your questions are about what you want to be mentored in. Don’t be a know-it-all with your leader. This will kill any mentoring relationship from the start. Be teachable. Once the leader has invested their time and wisdom with you, act on what they shared. Don’t even think about asking for a second meeting if you haven’t even acted on what they gave you in the first meeting.
When you value a leader’s time, they can tell from the moment you enter the room with them. When you act on what they share with you, you increase your chances for another meeting with them.