Do you really need to take this meeting?

Do you really need to take this meeting?

Hmmm… why is that even a question?

A CEO should know everything that is going on, and at the same time let the leadership team run the company. That poses a dilemma of how much is too much, or how much is too little, to know.

Moreover, the CEO’s attention is sought after not only by internal stakeholders, but also from external. For example, new sales prospects, new partners, board members, interviews for the media, candidate interviews and on and on.

So how do you decide if YOU should take this meeting request, or not?

This post is about inbound meeting requests, and how to filter them. As a CEO you will set your own meetings all the time, and many of them will be 1:1 with employees, just to catch up, listen and learn. A good practice is MBWA – Management by walking around.

As there are less hours in the day available for all the demand on your time, you need to have a method to guard against wasting your time. Here are some suggestions on how to filter inbound request for time on your calendar:

1) The next category is junk.

Got an email from a sales person about a product you don’t need? What does your mind tells you to do with this email?
Yep, its junk, ignore it. Move on. Do not waste another millisecond.

Now, why is it so obvious in this case what to do, and yet, in other cases not?

My advice to you, is to scan all your request for meetings THE SAME WAY you scan you emails. Quickly decide if this is junk, something semi-important, important, or very important (you will have to deal with these).

What is a classic request you should always classify as junk and ignore? “Come spend a day with city council to share your ideas on better economic development in the next ten years, lunch will be served.”

As a startup CEO, you should not spend a millisecond on this of your time. On your priority list, this is junk.

2) The next category is semi-important.

For example, if you get invited to help pick the vendor for office’s water – should you attend?

No. If your team can not make this choice without you, then you have a different problem.

You can ask to be informed of the decision, or be told like the rest of the office after this decision is made.

This category of meetings may include many “run of the mill” decisions, relating to office, HR, building management, company party planning etc. You can still be informed and provide guidance/feedback, but it not your top priority.

3) The next category is important.

That still does NOT mean you should take this meeting, or at least be in ALL of it. There are many important meetings happening every day in your company. You can not be in all of them. In fact, some of the most important meetings you are not in, perhaps on purpose. The team wants to work on something, surprise you and the rest of the crew. Someone simply did not realize that this meeting is important and you should be at least invited. There, let that sink in.

Don’t confuse the fact that you were invited to an important meeting with the automatic need to attend it.

Many important things today, will become unimportant tomorrow. Why? priorities change, new developments occur, a customer who needed something now says their project is cancelled etc. In other words, your first reaction can be to give “this meeting” time, and see if indeed it is STILL important tomorrow. That is not to say you need to delay everything – but if you are going to spend time on something, it ought to be important, for real.

The next option for important meetings, is to send one of your leaders to attend in your stead. For example, if this is a meeting about technology budget spend, you can send the CFO (they may already be invited) – and provide them your guidance for your views. Then, the CFO can represent YOU in this meeting, and also bring back insights for a final decision. Note that the END RESULT will be the same, and the only difference is that you did not need to attend the meeting. #Delegate


If you can not send someone, you can still ask for meeting notes, and provide input based on the key action items and takeaways of the meeting. If you were on vacation that week, the same thing would have happened anyway. So, don’t be compelled to think the ONLY if you attend in-person, you can influence the course and outcome.

4) The next category is very important.

If you review all the tips and tricks for the first few categories, you will discover that you can safely remove yourself from 50% of the meetings you are taking – and still run the company more or less the same.

So the real question is which meetings are “very important”, those you MUST attend. It does not mean that you should NOT attend anything other than very important meetings. But it does mean that knowing which is which, will help you prioritize and also know you are attending a meeting because you want to, and not because you have to.

There are some obvious meetings which are very important, which you must attend: board meetings, job interviews with direct reports and/or other critical positions, all hands meetings, your own staff meetings and so on. Its obvious, because you are a speaker in them, and no one should speak for you.

Then, there are sales related meetings, which some are important and some are very important. On deals that are company-makers, it behooves the CEO to be there, provide support or negotiate the deal. These kind of meetings will change the trajectory of the company, and the stakes are too high to delegate. Moreover, you do not want someone other than you to fail in such occasions, and carry the burden of the implications on their back/reputation. It’s called the burden of command for a reason.

Surely, if your company is being acquired, you should attend those meetings, that goes without saying.

As to the rest, ask yourself what value you can bring to this meeting that is unique to you, and that should help decide if you NEED to attend, or not.

This post is leading to the final conclusion: Some decisions can only be made by the emperor.

There are decisions, that are meant for the leader of the company to make. Its why there is a leader, and why they are trusted to make them. It could be about pivoting the company to another market. About how you store user data and your principle not to sell this data to anyone. There is no way, different meetings in the company can make this decision. They can help with research, fact findings, analysis and so on. But to make the decision, only one person can, for good or bad.

After all, no decision was ever made by a committee.

References and Quotes:

“A camel, is a horse designed by a committee.”
-Sir Alec Issigonis

Why Design By Committee Should Die

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