We talk all the time here on the blahg about leadership and having an impact, because that’s what business schools — especially Harvard, Stanford and Wharton – care so much about in their applicants. We single out those three schools but really, any school you apply to will respond well when they see evidence of this in your profile.
How on earth do you show impact?
There’s lots of ways, but today we’re going to introduce one simple technique for you to begin to practice in your daily life at work, that we think should be useful for you — not only in how it will start to let you directly add value to those around you, but also to build a muscle that will be so, so important if (when? hopefully when!) you get the interview at HBS.
Here’s what we suggest:
Following every single meeting you have today — and if you’re like most people in a modern work environment, you’ll have plenty — take 2 minutes to:
1. Capture the essence of the meeting. What important news was shared? What was decided? Write it down, in 2 sentences or less.
This is not meant as a to-do list or next steps. Those should’ve already been captured by you or someone else before the meeting adjourned. This is your own take on the meaning of the meeting.
2. Think back over your own participation. Is there anything more you could have contributed? Identify it specifically.
This might be one of those, “Oh, I forgot to say X!” things, like when you were doing project planning for the 4th quarter and you were allocating tasks, and you forgot that your friend Dinesh is going to be out for two weeks to attend his sister’s wedding, which is going to impact the schedule. Or it could be a lightbulb moment, where you realize that such-and-such is also true about the discussion everyone had, and you think your manager would appreciate hearing that. Or it could just be that you wish you had spoken up at the 20-minute mark when the meeting started to go off the rails on something totally irrelevant, and everyone wasted 15 minutes in discussion of a topic that wasn’t core to why the meeting was called. Or maybe you were sitting there quiet, with this great idea in your head, but you were too shy to say anything, and then when Joe from Sales mentioned it, everybody thought it was so brilliant, and you had been thinking it the whole time, and it would’ve been nice to make that contribution yourself.
Write down your observations.
It doesn’t have to be earth-shaking. It could just be, “I could’ve gotten to the meeting 2 minutes earlier to get settled so that I was ready when the meeting started.” Or, “I could’ve have turned my phone off so that it didn’t ding in the middle of Li’s presentation.”
At first, when you start doing this, it’ll likely be very difficult. You’ll have trouble focusing on anything but what other people did wrong, or just the basic topic of the meeting, or the last thing that was said. “Jesse was so distracting, typing so loud on her laptop the whole time, I wish she hadn’t done that.” Or, “All we did is decide to have another meeting.” Or, “Heather is going to write up the notes and email them. I can wait till she does that and do this exercise then.”
No, you can’t. You need to do this right away. Go back to your desk and sit there with a notepad and jot down what you remember.
1. What was the essence of the meeting?
2. What could you have done differently, or how could you further contribute to that exact issue?
As you practice this over time, you’ll be able to do this review in your head, as you walk back to your desk, or in the elevator down to your floor, or on your way to Starbucks for your 5th latte of the day. Initially though, you should make a point to literally go sit down and write it down on paper, by yourself. Spend two full minutes on it. Force yourself to answer these questions. If you don’t make it a specific practice, it’ll be too easy to just blow it off or say to yourself, “Yeah, I know that stuff, I don’t have to write it down.”
But guess what? Next week, when that same group meets again to continue the conversation, will anyone remember where you left off? Or will the meeting begin with 7 minutes of discussion figuring out the same stuff that was figured out before?
No, it won’t. You’ll pull out your notes and see where you captured the essence of the issue. “Last time, this is what I came away with.”
Even more important: What opportunity can you make for yourself to have an impact on the issue now? Before the next meeting convenes? If you sit in a moment or two (or, literally 2 minutes, as we’re suggesting) after each meeting to think through what just transpired, and how you personally could have done more, or different, or where you could have added new insight then we’re betting that every once in awhile, you’ll pop up with some truly awesome idea that you can present to your colleagues or your boss, that will crack open a problem or add specific benefit to a client or in some way really help out. You can dash off an email with your idea, and effectively move the ball forward even more. Progress will be made. Maybe not every single time, after every single meeting. But sometimes it will.
The other massive wow-factor possibility? You may realize that a quick apology might be in order.
Maybe you step back and see that you monopolized the meeting, or you were short with someone, or dismissive of a teammate when he tried to raise an objection. Maybe you interrupted too much. Maybe you were the one who took the meeting down a rabbit hole that it didn’t need to go down.
If you see now that you offended someone or were too brash in some way, then you could go straight to their cube and say, “Hey, I shouldn’t have said it that way. I’m sorry.”
You can start to notice where you can do things differently yourself, and start to change.
If you do this 2-minute task diligently, and sit in some reflection each time, after every meeting, then this other very cool thing will also start to happen: Your brain will start working on this task BEFORE THE MEETING IS OVER. And that’s when you can start to add real value.
OK. So what does this have to do with Harvard?
Apparently we’ve yammered on for 1,100 words already in this post so we’ll take this topic up again tomorrow to tell you. UPDATE: TAKEN UP HERE!