Elegant Management

This week I got to watch elegant management up close. A team leader refused to take the easy way out of a challenging situation, refused to give up on her priority of elevating an individual on her team and capturing a confidence building opportunity. This is what happened.

As part of a board meeting, members of different functional teams were scheduled to present. In addition to helping the board better understand key elements of the business, these management presentations can be a big deal to the team. One of the things I remember being sold on when I joined a startup was “board exposure” and the opportunity was a big deal to me.

In this meeting, we were behind schedule and the room was impatient as a member of the non-executive team started to present. A senior leader, but new to the team, he was clearly nervous and responded by taking

time setting up his section of the meeting in great detail. He had 4 or 5 slides to go through and as he dove into the detail of a single bullet on the first slide and began to discuss the underlying decision making process it seemed like it might take him 40 minutes we didn’t have.

Everyone knew this was trouble, including his manager, as she received withering looks from more than one founder, who were, in turn receiving looks and hand signals from multiple investors/board members in the room. It would have been easy for her to remind the presenter that we were behind, had a lot of material to cover and that he needed to move quickly through his slides. It would have been easy to make him feel that his section was not important, that we could basically skip it, and lose sight of the primary value of having him present in the first place — the value to him as a part of the team.

But she didn’t. Instead she addressed the challenge in a very elegant way that achieved her management goal and a dramatic increase in pace.

She knew the content on each slide that he was presenting and she knew the overall narrative he had been tasked with presenting. She knew the key points and was able to encourage jumping to next slide by adding on to his points and contributing to the story being told but also mentioning/previewing the subject of the next slide.

It was fantastic to watch. Her ability to guide the conversation created a natural transition to the next slide but did not undercut the value of the presenter’s work in the board room. She got him back on pace but allowed him to maintain face.

Keeping your priorities straight in the presence of stress is a sign of a good manager. Clarity of purpose and supporting your team is a core job requirement. Doing this with elegance and grace is rare.

I aspire to have similar poise.

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