Leadership development is not a solo sport.

We cannot shift and change in a silo. We need to involve others in our development, and we also need to join others in action. For example, we can formally help others develop by providing feedback or new perspectives and utilizing coaching skills. Or, we can promote development in informal ways, like being an interrupter. 

An interrupter acts as a clarifying voice in development

An interrupter acts as a clarifying and noticing voice when something is unclear or could be perceived as coming from a reactive place. This can especially be effective in team meetings.

For example, you are in attending an Executive Team meeting. You know that each person has been putting in a ton of effort during this particular stage of the business and are all pretty exhausted. The CEO talks about an initiative she recently launched and says, “I need to make sure you all know this is the top priority.” You notice that the team members nod but their body language shifts. Some people sigh, and their shoulders get tense.

The room’s energy shifts and does not shift into excitement. The CEO is ready to move on to the next topic, but you step in as an interrupter. How?

  • Clarify by asking a question or saying: “Let’s talk about what you expect of this team in making this the top priority.”  
  • Name the energy shift in the room:
    • “When you made your last statement, I felt the energy drain from the room.”
    • “I wonder if we can discuss what is on people’s minds.”
    • “Your statement made me anxious to think about how I will shift from focusing on all of the other top priorities to this new priority. Can we discuss this as a team?”
  • Respectfully call out the unintended impact of the statement: “Are you getting any indications that this isn’t our top priority?”

A respectful interrupter can be beneficial

The benefits of being a respectful interrupter can have many positive impacts on the team. You can clarify expectations and meanings behind words/sentences. 

  • This saves countless hours of wasted energy on wondering what was meant by a statement or what the call to action meant. 
  • It also saves the energy spent on the ‘meetings after the meetings’ that will inevitably happen because people will want to discuss the possible meanings behind the statement. 
  • It saves stress on individuals because they will have a straightforward course of action and let go of any unnecessary worry and unproductive tasks. 
  • Your actions also help that leader with their development: to think through their statements’ impact, clarify expectations, and notice energy shifts in people and the room before moving forward. 
  • You may bring about or reinforce a culture of healthy conflict, where there are no ‘untouchable’ topics and items that can be addressed respectfully in the meeting.

Psychological Safety

Of course, being an interrupter requires psychological safety. Hopefully, trust has been built within your team, and they will quickly understand the benefits of an interrupter.

From my work with executives, I know this is only sometimes the case. If psychological safety isn’t developed in your team, it is an area that requires some effort, and the work is well worth the time and energy. 

Being an interrupter requires attending and participating in meetings using multiple lenses. The lens of the interrupter focuses on the best interests of the team. The interrupter knows that clarifying messages can be a game changer regarding time, productivity, energy, and stress reduction.