Meetings

How 10 Famous Business Leaders, Including Musk, Bezos and Jobs, Handle Meetings

Yes, even Oprah gets bored in meetings.
How 10 Famous Business Leaders, Including Musk, Bezos and Jobs, Handle Meetings
Image credit: Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Editorial Intern
6 min read
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We’ve all zoned out in meetings that pointlessly drag on for no reason. They are tiring, time-consuming and unnecessary.

The most successful people in business know that just because you’ve met, doesn’t mean you’ve been productive. Here’s how 10 famous business leaders efficiently run their meetings.

Jeff Bezos: Keep the headcount low.

Jeff Bezos's strategy for keeping meetings under control? Buy two pizzas. If that doesn’t comfortably feed the crowd, there are too many people in the room, which could make the meeting pointlessly drag on and stifle creativity. To prevent groupthink and feed independent ideas (quite literally), Bezos keeps Amazon’s meetings to only a handful of people.

Jack Ma: Don't be the smartest person in the room.

Chinese billionaire and founder of Alibaba Group makes sure he is never the smartest one in the conference room. Once an English teacher making $12 an hour, Ma became an expert in business and technology by surrounding himself with people whose IQ far surpassed his own. Ma shared his philosophy at the World Economic Forum, stating, “For so many years, I always tried to find the people smarter than I am. And when you find so many smart people, my job is to make sure the smart people can work together.” As top dog, Ma knows that to lead the pack, you need to mediate it.

Related: Too Many Meetings Suffocate Productivity and Morale

Sheryl Sandberg: Stick to a checklist.

Tech mogul Sheryl Sandberg goes old school for meetings and relies on her trusty spiral bound notebook. For each meeting, she handwrites a carefully crafted list of discussion points to address. Once everything on the list is crossed off, the meeting is adjourned, even if it was only eight minutes long. No frills, Sandberg keeps meetings straight forward and to the point.

Warren Buffett: Don't have scheduled meetings.

Trying to score a meeting with Warren Buffett? Wait till the last minute. He prefers to not schedule anything more than 24 hours in advance. Though not everyone has the luxury of living on such a whim, Buffett’s initiative to take control of his own schedule can be helpful for all entrepreneurs. Believing flexibility is more efficient, Buffett focuses on what needs his attention at the very moment instead of being held prisoner to a strict itinerary.

Related: The 7 Must-Know Rules of Productive Meetings

Oprah Winfrey: Don't have meetings.

Oprah Winfrey’s meeting strategy -- don’t meet. Preferring a detailed email from her staff, Winfrey only sits down for a meeting when absolutely necessary.  She even went as far as to convince Coretta Scott King, the wife of the late Martin Luther King Jr., to cancel her flight and keep the conversation to a phone call. In one interview, Winfrey recalls, “And I go, ‘Mrs King, you should just tell me whatever it is on the phone and save yourself the flight. Whatever it is, I’m going to be more inclined to do it if you just ask me on the phone. Because if you come all the way here, and I don’t want to do it, I’m still not gonna do it.’” Knowing there is only a limited amount of time in one day, Winfrey only spends time doing what she really wants to do, and that doesn’t include business meetings.

Mark Parker: Doodle during meetings.

Mark Parker, Nike's CEO, likes to doodle his way through a meeting. He never attends a meeting without his sketchbook. Mimicking the hemispheres of his brain on the page to find balance, Parker dedicates every left page to business brainstorming, and every right to drawing. At the 2013 Innovation by Design Conference, Parker explained how this strange habit helped him find success. “I think about balance a lot,” Parker says. “Most of us are out of balance, and that’s OK, but you need to keep your eye on the overall equilibrium to be successful.”

Steve Jobs: Only invite the important people.

For Steve Jobs, the more was not the merrier. Jobs was known for only inviting the necessary personnel to the room, and even reportedly asked attendees to leave if he felt crowded. Too many people took away the simplicity under which Jobs worked best. When the Obama Administration invited Steve Jobs to meet at the White House with other tech giants, Jobs tried to decline. There would be too many people in the room, and he preferred a personal invitation. The less people the better.

Related: 5 Tips for Effective Team Meetings

Gary Vaynerchuk: Cut the expected meeting time in half.

Gary Vaynerchuk believes in setting a time length for a meeting, then cutting it in half. By shortening the meeting time, people are forced to cut out the meaningless chit chat and complete the task at hand,. “If I have an hour meeting with my team, we will fit everything we need into the hour. We’ll banter a bit and talk about a few things we didn’t plan on talking about. But if we cut that same meeting to 30 minutes, we’ll still accomplish everything that needs to be done, hands down,” Varynerchuk explains.

Elon Musk: Deconstruct a topic then build it up.

Elon Musk expects his team to break it down. Meeting attendees deconstructs an idea or situation to “first principles,” what Musk sees as the most basic form of truths and facts, to give them the freedom to think outside the box. Then, they put the box together once again, and analyze it from a new perspective.

Neil Blumenthal: Have a strict agenda.

Neil Blumenthal, co-founder of Warby Parker, the “Netflix of Eyewear,” avoids what he describes as the “endless-wasteful-meeting syndome” by setting a strict agenda and expecting readings be prepared 24 hours in advance, via Google Docs. He posts comments and questions on the reading material to ensure that both him, and his team, are prepared to be as efficient possible.
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