Meetings are important scenarios for the company’s executive team to collaborate on goals and tasks, discuss key decisions. This includes strategic discussions, budget planning meetings, budget review meetings, special seminars, operational and financial analysis meetings, organizational and human resource planning meetings, and more. From a time perspective, these meetings account for more than 50% of the total working time of executives, and this is not an exaggeration.
As a member of the executive team who holds a ‘special’ position, the first position should excel at being the ‘last speaker’ in meetings. Here, when I say ‘speaking,’ I mainly refer to making statements, excluding asking clarifying questions during the process of listening to other executives speak, responding to questions from other executives, providing necessary information, and so on.
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Four major advantages of being skilled at being the ‘last speaker’ in meetings.
First, being adept at being the ‘last speaker’ makes team decisions more likely to be correct. Generally speaking, good decisions should start with a ‘factual judgment’ based on a thorough investigation, followed by a ‘right and wrong judgment’ based on logical reasoning, and finally, a ‘value judgment’ based on principles. If the first position speaks too early, many executives may have already made a quick ‘political judgment’ while outwardly making ‘right and wrong judgments.’ You might say that principles such as ‘equality,’ ‘speaking frankly,’ ‘simplicity and truth’ can be agreed upon before the meeting. However, these principles are likely to be more of what ‘should be’ and ‘wishes’ rather than ‘reality.’ Executives should not challenge human nature arbitrarily, and the first position should not easily test the waters of human reactions.
Second, being adept at being the ‘last speaker’ in the first position helps cultivate a team of “excellent talents.” The speeches during executive meetings serve as a training ground for these talents. Different executives exhibit different levels of expertise when they speak. Some executives simply provide raw data and information, while others can summarize their speeches based on categorized data and information. Some executives can find connections between data and information, dissecting them into finer points, while others can identify key points and highlight them. The highest-level executives can explain complex events and key points in a clear and impressive manner. If the first position speaks too early, it may reduce the opportunities for these talents to develop their skills, resulting in them only developing skills like understanding, grasping, and leading (leading others in applause). You may argue that “being eloquent doesn’t necessarily mean being a talent.” I won’t delve into this topic here, but if you’re interested, you can read our article on our public account titled “Fang Shengtao: Can People Who Are Competent But Inarticulate Be in Top Management?”
Third, being adept at being the ‘last speaker’ helps the first position in learning and evolving. As mentioned earlier, meetings occupy more than 50% of executives’ total work time, which is not an exaggeration. From this perspective, meetings can be an essential path for the first position to learn and evolve. Executives responsible for various functions and business units can bring valuable external insights and industry understanding to the meetings. They can also present their genuine insights on various issues. The first position can gain a lot of valuable knowledge from these executives’ speeches, reports, and discussions. In fact, one could argue that the first position should practice the art of “absorbing star power,” as these executives are essentially helping the first position learn and evolve. If the first position speaks too early, it may disrupt these valuable learning paths.
Fourth, being adept at being the ‘last speaker’ in the first position helps the first position navigate change. Many major decisions involve organizational changes. The support and commitment of people in times of change are crucial to the success of the change. By listening to others speak before delivering the ‘last speech,’ the first position can gauge everyone’s support and commitment to the direction of the change and the overall energy within the organization. These insights can help the first position judge whether it’s the right time to initiate organizational change. Managing organizational change should be a collective effort rather than an autocratic rule. If the final decision is to proceed with organizational change, the process of allowing relevant individuals to express their views is also a process of mobilizing their participation in the change and accumulating the energy for change.
In summary, being adept at being the ‘last speaker’ in the first position makes team decisions more likely to be correct, helps cultivate a team of excellent talents, supports the first position’s learning and evolution, and assists the first position in managing change. With so many benefits, why wouldn’t the first position strive for this?
What personal requirements or challenges the first position faces in achieving this ‘dream.’
First, the first position requires an open-minded and patient attitude. Since the first position chooses to be the ‘last speaker,’ they must respect others’ right to speak first. A broad-minded first position will not be displeased if the opinions expressed by others contradict their own. While listening to others speak, if the first position frequently appears serious or loses emotional control, the concept of being the ‘last speaker’ becomes meaningless, as their emotional expression becomes an ‘early speech.’ Some may ask, “Isn’t the first position’s time valuable? Can’t they intervene when they hear lengthy and unproductive speeches?” My advice is that, unless someone is a habitual offender, the first position can provide feedback during their ‘last speech.’ From this perspective, the first position indeed requires patience. Considering the benefits I mentioned earlier, the first position can console themselves with the saying, ‘Half of ambition is patience.’
Second, the first position needs cognitive abilities and judgment. As the ‘last speaker,’ the first position often needs to provide necessary comments on the speeches of other participants and summarize the arguments. This requires the first position to quickly understand and integrate the information provided by others and make directional decisions. Therefore, in this sense, the first position’s job is not just about wining and dining people to win their hearts; it is about whether they can make quality judgments and decisions, which truly tests the first position’s cognitive abilities and judgment.
Third: the first position’s understanding of the meaning of their own life. Some first positions speak at meetings primarily to prove that everyone else is a fool and that only they are the wisest. Such a first position brings harm to others with their speech, regardless of when they speak. A first position who excels at being the ‘last speaker’ enjoys being in a state of unity and cooperation with other executives, witnessing the growth of those around them. They enjoy seeing other executives become proficient in their respective areas of expertise and confidence. Behind this lies the first position’s understanding of the meaning of their own life and what inner drive propels their progress.
Fourth: the first position’s vision for the executive team. Different first positions have different visions for their executive teams. The appearance of the executive team can be of various types, such as ‘soloist,’ ‘right-hand man,’ ‘standing committee,’ ‘all-star,’ ‘business partners,’ and more. The positioning of other executives by the first position also varies. Do they want executives to participate in strategic, organizational, and investment decisions, or do they only need a group of executives to follow orders and execute tasks? If the first position envisions an executive team as ‘soloists,’ then being the ‘last speaker’ may not be necessary. However, if they aim to build an executive team that is ‘all-star’ or ‘business partner’ in nature, expecting executives to contribute to strategic, organizational, and investment decisions, then being the ‘last speaker’ becomes highly important.
Having said this, I must emphasize that the first position should not be limited by the form of being the ‘last speaker.’ In the process of forming a ‘true executive team,’ the first position and the executive team have many opportunities to eat, drink, play, have fun, and even face challenges together. They can sweat together, cry together, and work together. The first position is no longer ‘special,’ and other executives are accustomed to ‘legally hurting’ the first position without any psychological burden. In such cases, the first position may not necessarily need to be the ‘last speaker.’ This situation is especially common in executive teams composed of carefree individuals from the post-85s and post-90s generations.