Last week, I met up with a friend and former teammate to catch up and talk about the challenges of managing people.
While talking, we got into the topic of leading one-on-ones.
We both agreed that when asked about one-on-ones, most managers throw up their hands and say,
“I don’t know what I’m doing!”
And their next question is:
“What do you do with your one-on-ones?”
If you lead people, I’m sure you’ve felt this. I definitely have.
Because of that, I want to share a bit about leading one-on-ones in this post.
Now, I know that most of us don’t manage people in an official org-chart sort of way but we all lead people in some capacity—volunteers, interns, coaching, etc.
And, I’m guessing that you struggle with knowing what to do and what to talk about in one-on-one meetings.
Knowing how to lead a great one-on-one feels like a secret that you haven’t been let in on.
This is probably because few of us have been given the opportunity of watching someone else lead a great one-on-one…Well, I’m no pro but I’ve had a number of good bosses and I’ve spent the last several years refining how I lead one-on-ones.
So, let’s talk about a few ways to lead a great one-on-one.
1. Be Consistent
First things first…Great one-on-ones start with consistency.
You have to meet regularly and predictably.
And by this I mean it has to be on both of your calendars as a recurring meeting.
Consistency is critical for building trust and trust is foundational for a healthy boss/employee relationship.
Most experts would say that in order to be effective, a one-on-one meeting needs to occur at least every other week. Most of my one-on-ones happen every week.
Also, consistency in length of meeting is important.
I schedule my one-on-ones for an hour but some people get 90 minutes. It all depends on the role the person is in and what we are working on developmentally.
Lastly, it helps to be consistent with the template of the meeting. The rest of this post contains a typical meeting template for a one-on-one that I lead.
Feel free to steal or borrow elements for your one-on-ones.
2. Build A Relationship
Personally, I believe that leadership is built on relationship.
If I don’t truly know and care about the person I am leading, it just won’t work.
I use part of the one-on-one time to build relationship and trust.
I usually do this by asking questions:
• How’s life?
• How’s your family?
• What did you do last weekend?
• How’s [insert hobby] going?
Depending on how you are wired, these questions might seem like a waste of time, too personal, or even patronizing.
All I’m trying to say is that you can’t lead a person well if they don’t believe that you care about them.
Get to know them and their story.
If you’re just beginning to lead someone, start by asking them to share their story with you. It is crucial that the person believes that you like them, care about them and are for them.
3. Help Them Process
The next thing I try to do in my one-on-ones is help my people process their work—projects, relationships, team dynamics, etc.
I do this through a series of questions. I tend to use different questions at different times.
Here are a few examples:
• What’s going on?
• What are you working on right now?
• What are your focuses this week?
• What would be a highlight and a lowlight of your work right now?
• What have you been spending your time on this week?
• What’s something you are excited about?
• What’s something that is driving you crazy?
The strategy behind these questions is to mine for what needs to be talked about.
One of the best ways for you to serve your people is to help them get unstuck, refocused or clear.
Now, here’s the next-level element to this: Don’t solve the problems for them.
Don’t answer their questions and don’t fix their problems. This creates dependency.
What needs to happen here is more questions.
When you uncover a problem of some kind, instead of saying, “Here’s what you need to do,” ask more questions.
• What’s your plan for that?
• How are you addressing this?
• What’s your strategy for dealing with them?
• How are you processing this issue?
The idea here is to help the person under your care to develop problem solving skills and greater work intelligence.
Most managers and leaders (myself included) are too quick to solve problems.
Great leaders coach their people through problems in a way that the employee or volunteer develops their own skills and thinking abilities.
If you want to learn more about this practice, read Multipliers by Liz Wiseman.
Now, sometimes an issue that someone under your care is dealing with is critical.
There are times when you need to jump in and offer guidance and direction.
I want to be clear that I’m not advocating for a style of leadership that just watches the ship sink. I am advocating for a style of leadership that seeks to develop skills in the people under your care so that they can plug the leaks without your help.
4. Develop Them
Alright, this is what I believe is the most crucial part of a great one-on-one.
In my experience, the thing employees want most from a supervisor is development.
They are looking for someone to help them grow and achieve their aspirations.
In fact, a friend recently lamented to me that his boss isn’t giving him any negative feedback. He knows he can’t grow if he doesn’t know what he isn’t doing well!
One of my favorite questions to ask my people is:
Where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing in five years?
If you know the answer to this question, it is much easier to develop someone.
All you have to do is help them to recognize what skills, information or experiences they are lacking in order to be in that position.
Ok. So, in five years, you want to be an associate pastor. That is exciting!
Here’s my usual follow up question:
What do you feel like you need, in order to be ready for that role?
The person usually knows at least in part what skills and experiences they need.
If you can connect them to the right mentors, projects to be a part of, meetings to observe, etc. this person will be deeply grateful.
There is nothing like knowing that your boss is for you and working hard to help you achieve your goals.
Now, if you want to go next-level here, connect current job performance with their future goals.
Usually, feedback is easier to receive when you know it will help you achieve future goals.
5. Invite Them To Give Feedback
Another key component to a great one-on-one is providing an open channel for the person under your care to give you feedback.
Here’s a question I often use:
Is there anything I am doing that is making things more difficult for you than they need to be?
I ask questions like this for a couple of different reasons.
1. I want to grow as a leader!
2. I want my people to trust me and know they can be honest with me.
3. It helps them grow in their ability to give clear feedback.
If your people feel like you are untouchable or certain subjects are off-limits, it will be difficult to build a solid relationship.
However, if they feel like they can be open and honest and that you are a learner just as much as them…now you’re onto something great.
6. Encourage and Inspire Them
As I near the end of a one-on-one meeting, I try to encourage and inspire my people by reminding them of the strengths and gifts I see in them.
I also try to remind them of the impact they are having in other people’s lives.
Everyone needs encouragement, especially in ministry, and I always want to end the meeting on a high note if possible.
Sometimes, this is a great spot to pray for the person too.
7. Here’s What We’ll Do
The very last part of a great one-one-one brings clarity to what is expected for the next meeting.
I simply say,
Alright, so for next time, I’d love for you to bring an update on how your conversation with Bill went. And, I’ll commit to talking with Susan about XYZ.
I think it is important to end with reminders about important tasks or items to follow up on.
In some cases, I also follow up the meeting with a quick email outlining whatever each of us committed to.
Well, there you go.
Hopefully these have been helpful tips for leading a great one-on-one.
Different leaders follow different strategies for one-on-ones, this is simply mine. I’m not even sure it is the best.
We’d love to hear about your strategies.
Also, feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments below. Thanks for reading.