The Impact of Meeting Speaking Time on Perceived Leadership, and Getting Promoted
Meeting Speaking Time is Strongly Associated with Perceived Leadership
Did you know that the total amount of time an employee spends talking is a reliable indicator for their perceived leadership at work?
As surprising as that may be, decades of research have demonstrated that the total amount of time an individual spends talking is in fact one of the most strongly associated factors with leadership, as attributed by peers. Speaking Time is a more reliable indicator of perceived leadership than intelligence, domain knowledge, and even title in the organization. (Bass 1949, Bass 1954, Cheng 2016, Ensari 2011, Gerpott 2019, Schmid Mast 2002, Sorrentino 1975)
Recent research (MacLaren 2020) confirms the strong association between speaking time and leader emergence, and shows that speaking time has a stronger association with leader emergence than cognitive ability or personality traits.
Research indicates that colleagues perceive the most prolific speaker as a good leader (regardless of the content of their communication).
Perceived Leadership is Associated with Promotions
Speaking time imbalances happen quite naturally. Imagine your own workplace. An employee calls a meeting to order, introduces the gathered participants, sets the context for the meeting, provides initial thoughts on the direction the meeting should go, asks and responds to questions throughout, and defines next steps at the end of the meeting. The employee who led the meeting has probably spoken more than any other single group member.
There are endogenous and exogenous factors that contribute to employees feeling empowered to facilitate meetings and "take up space."
- Internally, employees need to develop confidence and self-assurance. They need to know how to lead effective meetings, know when and how to lead them, and feel comfortable leading a group discussion.
- Externally, teams should create a culture where everyone's point of view is welcome.
Both internal and external factors are necessary to see a leader emerge with ample speaking time allotment.
Speaking Time Changes Leadership Perception
Fortunately, this research provides hope for change in the real world. There is evidence that simply increasing a group member's speaking time increases subsequent leadership evaluations - including speakers from underrepresented categories (such as gender, ethnicity, mother tongue, etc).
For organizations that want to address a lack of diversity in leadership or fight promotion bias, one solution may be encouraging underrepresented people to speak up, and simultaneously creating more psychologically safe team environments in which all employees feel safe to share their perspectives.
Encouraging employees to speak up is not enough on its own. If an organizational culture has been established that subtly makes people feel bad for asking questions, discourages risk-taking, or penalizes sharing divergent opinions, no amount of "encouragement to speak up" will overcome this downward pressure. Teams with those characteristics are known as low psychological safety environments.
At Equal Time, we provide 2 factors to improve leadership equity:
- A targeted intervention for underrepresented employees seeking their first managerial role. Participants should be educated on the importance of speaking up and having their voice heard. Participants should also receive tools to help them run meetings confidently. Effective facilitation tools help employees to demonstrate their leadership potential and get noticed by their manager and peers.
- A targeted intervention for leaders who have the responsibility for making promotion decisions. Participants should get education on the role that speaking time plays on the perception of leadership emergence. Participants should also receive tools to help them to facilitate meetings equitably, call on all participants, manage interruptions, and ensure quieter voices are included.
Together, Equal Time's two-pronged attack helps underrepresented employees speak up, and helps managers lead psychologically safe teams. Equal Time's Zoom and Google Meet apps improve the equity of speaking time in meetings, improves inclusion within companies, and ultimately improves promotion rate equity.
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