You need top level leadership to support the change you are driving, but do you need them to attend all your meetings?

Too frequently teams bog down because they can’t tell the difference between leadership support and leadership attendance.  When attendance fades (as it always seems to do with top level leaders), teams immediately assume the absence means the leaders don’t support the project any more.

Before you and your team jump to that conclusion, let’s put the leaders’ absences in perspective:

1.  Do they attend your meetings to work with your team or only out of habit?  You can tell by whether or not they pay attention to the conversation, actively participate and get excited as you claim progress and wins.  Someone only attending out of habit is frequently distracted from the conversation, messaging on their Blackberry and only engaging in the conversation when their name is mentioned.

2.  Do they return your calls, e-mails, visits?  Sometimes a leader’s meeting schedule changes and they can’t make your meeting, but that doesn’t mean they don’t support your project.  If you call or e-mail or visit the leader and they turn you away, you’re probably right that you’ve lost their support for your project.  But, if you call or e-mail or visit and the leader engages with you and offers you support, then you shouldn’t fear their absence.

3.  Do they remove obstacles when asked?  Too often teams rely on leaders to approve of every little action in their change plan.  Instead, why not charge forward with your change during the leaders’ absences, calling on them only when you need an obstacle removed.  If they respond to your request, continue on with driving your change.  If they ignore you and your obstacle, or worse listen then dismiss you, then you know you’ve got to work on building back the relationship of support or finding another leader to move your obstacles.

Don’t fear the absence of a leader. It just might be that they trust you enough to continue on without them.

Take that as a compliment and keep driving change.

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