Meeting leadership: 5 tips from neuroscience

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Dick and Emily Axelrod.

Neuroscience provides insights into leader behaviors that create effective meetings. Here are five tips that will make your next meeting an engaging and productive experience.

1. Make it safe for people to speak their mind. When presenting an idea to your team, ask meeting participants why your idea won’t work. When they respond, instead of trying to convince people that your idea will work, listen in order to understand their viewpoint. Follow up with statements like, “Please tell me more.” If they don’t respond, try saying, “If I were sitting in your chair, I might be thinking that this was the craziest idea I ever heard. I’m really interested in your comments.”

Then, incorporate their ideas for improvement into your proposal. When you invite criticism and listen for understanding, you begin to build trust that, in turn, creates a psychologically safe environment. Neuroscience has found that people are more productive when they experience psychological safety.

2. Involve meeting participants in meeting design. People support what they help to create. Meeting ownership shifts when participants are involved in determining the who, what, when, where and why of their meeting. Participants who participate in the meeting’s design work to ensure the meeting’s success. This tip involves going beyond asking participants for suggestions for the meeting agenda. It means involving meeting participants in designing the complete meeting experience -- from how people are welcomed to how you sum things up at the end.

3.Provide autonomy. Experiencing that your voice counts is different than feeling as if your voice counts. Create opportunities for participants to influence the meeting's direction and participate in decisions that are made there. As a leader, it is important to clarify the decision rules prior to entering a discussion. Meeting participants need to know if they are being asked to provide feedback on a proposal or if they are being asked to decide on whether to implement a proposal. Paradoxically, clear decision rules provide autonomy because people know what is being asked of them and can respond accordingly.

4. Make sure your meeting has meaning. This means discussing questions such as:

  • "What do you want to be different for you, for your co-workers and the organization as a result of this meeting?"
  • "What do you want to create for yourself, your co-workers and the organization because this group meets?"
  • "Why are you willing to put your own time and energy into this meeting?"

Energy is created when people find meaning in their work.

5. Provide opportunities to learn and grow. Frame your meetings as learning opportunities:

  • We are here to learn about how to improve our budgeting process.
  • We are here to learn how to successfully implement projects within the organization.
  • We are here to learn how to successfully implement this year’s goals.

Learning stimulates the brain and makes for engaging meetings.

Incorporate these tips in your next meeting and notice that changes in yourself and your fellow meeting participants


Dick and Emily Axelrod have a combined 60+ years in working with businesses and nonprofits. They are pioneers in creating employee involvement programs to effect large-scale organization change, and co-founded the Axelrod Group in 1981. Together, Emily and Dick are frequent keynote speakers, and co-authors. Their latest book is "Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done" (2014).

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader and communicator. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.