I recently relaunched biweekly 1:1 meetings with my direct reports.
None of these items are on the agenda:
- collecting status updates
- evaluating project progress
- assigning deliverables
- recording takeaways
- assigning action items
In fact, the agenda is very loose since the meeting is for them.
There is, however, one mandatory topic that we discuss:
“How Am Making Things Hard For You?”
I have to know what I’m doing or not doing, that is slowing them down.
Because, of all the things that can hold them back, I’m the biggest.
(Of course, I also want to hear how they’re doing in general, what they’re excited about, what they’re worried about, etc. And making that conversation safe is a BIG DEAL.)
But as I’ve worked to stop being the elephant in the room, I’ve learned that I’ve been missing 3 things.
1. Opportunities To Reassure
In several of my 1:1 meetings, I found out that the lack of regular, casual conversation was making them worry.
It doesn’t matter whether the boss is feeling happy thoughts about the workforce. If there’s no communication, they start to perceive risk. Even if things going sideways with the boss is unlikely, the potential impact is huge. Hence the fear.
So I’m making sure that I’m communicating more often, especially in the appreciation and gratitude department.
I don’t want my people getting worried, playing it safe, or spinning their wheels just because I’m giving weak signals.
2. Opportunities To Help
One of my direct reports told me that I don’t do all-hands meetings like I used to. She said people need to be inspired more often and feel like they’re part of something. And she’s needed help with that for a long time.
She’s right—I’ve been slacking, and I let her down.
Which is weird because I love helping people. I have time on my calendar reserved for it. But I haven’t been creating the environment where my people have easy opportunities to ask me for things they need.
Result: I’m making them slow, overburdened, or stressed.
Another person asked me to be an accountability partner to help him. He’s trying to increase focus on important stuff and delegate more consistently.
If I hadn’t been taking notes in the previous 1:1 meeting, I wouldn’t have known to follow up. Imagine that: I have a senior-level direct report asking for help to be more strategic, and I’m not stepping up because I’m “busy?”
3. Opportunities To Listen
Yes, I mainly want to understand how I’m holding them back and make their lives easier. But this leads to something greater. It’s a chance to uncover their struggles, their hopes, and their desires. To feel their pain and share their dreams. To be their ally in the journey ahead.
Not knowing those things means we don’t have a relationship. Just transactions.
What could be worse than employees feeling that their interaction with their boss is purely transactional?
As “the boss,” I think the best thing we can be is useful. If possible, we should be busy making things better for the people who get stuff done.
But a close second is not making things worse. Let’s not bring our best people down through inattention, inaction, or apathy.
Would it feel weird to ask your people what you’re doing (or not doing) to hold them back? If you can ask sincerely, and if they’re not afraid to answer you, you’ll become a force multiplier for your team.