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On a flight to Seattle, my seatmate, who I will call John, shared his lost hope for becoming a leader in his engineering team. In a 30-minute coaching conversation, we examined John’s experience in team meetings where he felt unable to make an impact. John realized that his resigned reactions in meetings undermined his potential to influence his team. Three months later, John had become a project leader, thanking my coaching for casting light on his blind spot.

Leadership and teamwork are rich subjects. Let us first define leadership. Leaders here don’t just mean the appointed meeting facilitator or managers in the room; even those without authority have an opportunity to lead by influencing their team. We call such leaders “influencers.”   In this article, we focus on exploring one of the fundamental mindset and behavioral barriers that blocks an individual’s potential to influence in meetings and a set of coaching tools to circumvent such barrier. Let us reference John’s coaching conversation as a starting point.

John saw how when he stopped listening, he no longer understood the discussion or the team’s needs in the meeting, and he lost his effectiveness in co-creating a solution with his team. He realized listening to others was independent from whether others listened to him, yet critical to his effectiveness at the meeting.  

Your experience in meetings may differ. Have you had a meeting where you experienced powerlessness to make an impact? Walk yourself through the left column of coaching questions. What do you discover?  

Effectiveness comes from intentional execution. There is a two-step process for boosting your effectiveness in meetings: (1) setting intention, and (2) staying intentional despite obstacles.


When we set a clear intention and generate thoughts and behaviors in alignment with that intention, our intention manifests as a desirable outcome.

When we are busy at work, how often do we set intentions? Before walking into a meeting, ask yourself, “What do I want from this meeting? What do we want to achieve through this meeting as a team?”

Setting intention has two dimensions. While it’s important to define the desirable outcome, it’s equally important to define the attitude that best supports that outcome. Have you ever seen a resigned teammate making an impact? Influencers stay engaged throughout the discussion and oftentimes beyond. When we disengage, we remove ourselves from the team. No one else can make us disengage but ourselves.


Staying intentionally engaged is easier said than done. John’s coaching conversation illustrates how our default reactions to triggers derail our engagement.

Everyone gets triggered. Triggers are external circumstances that agitate us into a reactive state. What triggers you in meeting rooms? What are your typical reactions when you are triggered? Do you stop listening, like John, whenever others ignore your comments? Do you stop speaking up for fear of looking stupid when high-powered individuals are present? Or do you become defensive when others criticize your ideas?

Developing awareness of our triggers and default reactions is the first step toward escaping their control. As our awareness heightens, we discern our reactions as they occur. The next step is acknowledging our reactions without blame, saving our cognitive resources for something better. This approach allows us to choose an empowering way of thinking and carry out a behavior aligned with our intention. This adaptive mental skill is known as emotional agility. The more we exercise our muscle of emotional agility, the faster we bounce back with a productive mindset and behavior in the moment.

Influential leadership isn’t about proving ourselves right; it is about inspiring others in creating what’s right for the team. President Abraham Lincoln, exemplified emotional agility when responding to adversarial comments by first acknowledging his opponents and turning conflicts into co-creative discussions. Similarly, in collaboration, setting our ego aside helps us access our own emotional agility and effectively counter the ego of stronger personalities.

John’s journey from competent individual performer to influencer is a journey shared by many. Becoming an effective influencer demands the habit of intentional execution. Insights alone do not guarantee results. When self-discipline gets challenging, many like John work with professional coaches to hold themselves accountable in developing new habits. The ability to stay intentionally engaged regardless of triggers requires commitment to the practice of setting intentions and exercising emotional agility in each moment.  


This artcile was also featured in Association of Women in Science (AWIS) Fall 2017 pulblication

About the Author:

Di is an ICF-trained professional career and leadership coach with a background as a program manager, engineer, and researcher in industry and academia. She holds a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT and has managed development of several product features from ideas to worldwide launch for Microsoft. In founding ZHENNOVATE, Di believes that everyone deserves access to quality personal and professional development resources that are traditionally available only to managers and executives, and strives to democratize such access for students and all levels of the workforce.