February 2, 2015

No Time for 90 Days! How to Schedule or Decline Meetings

IMG_9496I recently corresponded with a CEO who stated we couldn’t meet to discuss her time and income challenges for at least three months. My impression was that this was her standard  and habitual way to decline everything that’s not on fire in her office. Her reply wasn’t helping her professional image. What’s more, it’s scary—if it’s what she tells herself. Let’s start there.

Everyone has the same 24 hours a day—even the world’s busiest leader. Yes, they have more help, but when they get problems to solve, they get the stumpers. They have to solve what everyone under them can’t fix. Leaders survive by excelling at prioritization. “How will I spend my precious time? What’s most important now?” For low priority items where they choose not to act, they anticipate they’ll weather the consequences. They don’t tell themselves they won’t have a chance to work on their key challenges for months.

The CEO reply was not helping her image. By announcing that you lack ability to meet on a critical topic for the next quarter, you announce that your time management is shoddy. Be careful here. Avoid announcing to the public that you lack skills to manage your job. Besides, if you can’t manage your time—no worthy leader (i.e. the kind you would like to recruit for a board member, major gift or partnership) will allow you access to their time.

Recommended Replies:

1. No interest: “Thank you. Unfortunately, my calendar doesn’t allow.” While everyone prefers a yes, a quick “no” saves time.

2. Some interest. Not now: “Income growth (or fill in the blank,) while important isn’t a priority for the foreseeable future.” You can ask the other party to contact you later or write in your calendar when you work on the issue.

3. Interested. Move it forward: “Let’s put a date on the calendar after our big event (or your immediate challenge.) Would 30 minutes allow us enough time to discover common ground? Here are five times that work for me.”

What replies do you find most helpful—when you say yes or no?


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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