Mindset & Leading with One-on-One Meetings

How to get your mindset right while you’re holding one on one meetings

If you’re leading and managing other people, then you’re almost certainly having one-on-one meetings with your staff and team members. I’ve spent a lot of time doing just that myself, and helping my coaching clients to be as effective as they can when they do the same.

To make all your one-to-one meetings go well, you need to be clear about the outcomes you want, to have a step-by-step process to gain trust, and be prepared to be flexible depending on what comes up.

But perhaps the most important thing my clients talk about, is having their own heads in the right place before they start.

If you want your one on one meetings to work really well, it isn’t enough to know what to do and how to do it, you also need to know what attitudes of mind are likely to get the best results for you.

Here are three of the most important ones:

1. Empowerment as an outcome of your management

You’ve got to want to inspire people to get more done under their own motivation and responsibility.

It’s a bit like having teenagers – they need to learn how to do stuff for themselves.

Until you’re prepared to adopt this as part of your mindset, you’re likely to be spoon-feeding people and picking-up after them long after they could have learned to do it for themselves. I think the trick here is to actually include empowerment as one of the outcomes you’re after. Put it up there alongside the tasks that you want this person to achieve and give it as much, if not more, weight as all the other important stuff you need to ensure gets done.

2. Coaching as a leadership style

This is where you put a big chunk of your leadership energies into the longer-term development of others.

It’s not the only leadership style you’ll need to use, but it is very effective and very rewarding for you. It’s also a good partner to empowerment.

You could think of a coaching leadership style as being NOT about you as leader having the answers, but about guiding people to find their own answers to things.

If I had to encapsulate it in a single phrase for leaders to use, it’d be something like:
“How about trying this…?”

3. The transition from doing to leading

The more your responsibilities increase, the more you need to shift from actually doing stuff yourself, to getting stuff done by acting through others – by leading.

If you’re like most people, you’ll have got to your position at least partly because you’re good at what you do. And so this can sometimes be a tricky transition to make, or even to be aware of its significance. It’s also quite scary because of course it takes you outside of what you know you’re good at doing, into possibly new territory – and people are often much more complex to understand and influence than the tasks themselves.

But this is a really important place to get your head into. Take a deep breath, stop doing stuff yourself, and start making sure that you act through others.

If you personally wanted to get the most out of people in your one-to-one meetings, what other attitudes of mind might also be important to you?

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The Leadership Principle of Flexibility

Leadership: Have you got enough flexibility in your behaviour to adapt until you get the right outcome?

I found this old quote in my notebook yesterday:

“When a tree is growing, it is tender and pliant. But when it is dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death’s companions.

Andrei Tarkovsky

I’d kept the quote because it reminded me of one of my key leadership principles:

Have sufficient flexibility of behaviour so that you can adapt what you do until you get the right outcome

I can’t emphasise enough how important this principle of flexibility is and yet it’s often something that people struggle with at work. It seems that there are four main reasons why people aren’t more flexible in their approach to things at work:

  1. They’re concerned that changing the way they do things will be seen as a sign of weakness.
  2. They’re worried that actually they only know one way of doing things, and without that they’d feel helpless.
  3. They’re drawing too much on one of their other strengths (such as persistence and doggedness).
  4. There’s an important point of principle and they are concerned that trying a different way might compromise that.

And yet – if the way you’re currently doing it is NOT getting the right results, you have to ask, when is it time to try something else?

Try these simple steps first if you’d like to have a go at being more flexible in your leadership:

  1. How clear are you about what you’re trying to achieve?
  2. How do you know how well or not you’re doing? (What’s the evidence you can see, hear or touch?)
  3. How many strategies, or routes to your objective, have you already tried? (Hint, if it’s not more than one, then you may need to be a bit more flexible!)

One silly exercise I often set for people who want to practise being flexible, is to ask them to drive or travel home from work by a different route each day for a week. Have a go if you want, and see how resourceful it makes you feel!

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Defining Planning Timescales Using the Rules of Threes

Productivity, Prioritisation and the Rule of Threes

Using the rule of threes to be productive, prioritise effectively and stay focussed

Over the last few years I’ve been finding the Rule of Threes to be really helpful in being productive and setting priorities. And it’s often a tool I’ll reach for if I’m coaching someone who feels they’re struggling to be productive or who would like to achieve more important stuff.

The Rule of Threes itself is really simple – things feels more stable, more rounded and more dynamic when presented in threes. Just as a three-legged stool doesn’t wobble, so the rule of threes is usually a good platform to build on.

Here’s how I use the Rule of Threes to be more productive, to help set priorities and to stay focussed along the way.

First, I use it to help define my planning timescales.

I’ll look at Long-term, Medium-Term and Short-Term priorities for me, my work and my family. For each of my timescales, I’ll set-out what I want to achieve, what I don’t want to do, and how I want the experience to be along the way.

Here are the timescales I use – you should define your own. If you click the main picture at the top of this post, you can download a pictorial version.

1. Long-term

  • Ten years
  • Five years
  • Two years

2. Medium-term

  • This year
  • Six months
  • Two months

3. Short-term

  • This month
  • This week
  • Today

Second, I’ll use the Rule of Threes to help decide the scope of what I’m planning.

For me, that often looks something like the sketch below, and for each of my timescales, it includes:

  1. What do I want to achieve? (which for me is different from what I need to get done)
  2. What do I choose not to do? (this is one of the keys to staying focussed, and demands as much attention as your achievements)
  3. How do I want to BE? (which is about the quality of existence I want to experience)

Scope of Rules of Three in Productivity

Third, I’ll use the Rule of Threes to focus my efforts.

For each of my timescales, I’ll set-out the top three priorities that I want to cover. For example, each day I write out the top three things I want to achieve that day. (Sometimes I’ll even go mad and add three things I’m not going to do that day and three qualities I’d like to experience).

Here’s what the first bit of writing in your daily planner needs to look like – it really is this simple. If you want to stay focussed and achieve more important things, please, please try this:

  1. First important thing I want to achieve today
  2. Second important thing I want to achieve today
  3. Third important thing I want to achieve today

It doesn’t mean I can’t do other things that day. Nor does it mean (as some people suggest) that you have to do those three things first. I often find that there are some priority items that just have to wait until later in the day. For me, the top three priority items are just those things that are most important to me that day and in the context of my longer-term plans.

And that would be a good place to finish, since I’ve given you three ways to use the Rule of Threes in being productive. Instead though, I’m going to break that rule and suggest another area where it’s helpful in terms of productivity, prioritisation and fulfilment, which is:

Fourth: Reflecting, using the rule of threes to embed learning and boost change.

It can be useful, in all of this planning ahead, to take stock of things as you go. To make sure that it doesn’t all feel like the dead-weight of obligation, and to ensure that you’re being flexible. Being productive is about keeping focussed on the straight and narrow. But it’s also about making timely corrective actions; just trimming the sails as you go. Here’s my framework for that:

  1. Review – How did I do? You can do this for each of your timescales (see First Step, above)
  2. Refresh – what would revitalise me?
  3. Revise – what priorities do I need to change?

So, I might have broken the rule of three with that fourth section, but at least they all start with an R – I do try to think of this stuff…

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Productivity and Moral Self-Licensing

One (more) reason why people don’t straight-away do what they’ve said they would – and what to do about it

If you’ve ever been in a long meeting where lots of actions where agreed, and then found yourself wondering why people haven’t followed-through on those actions – or if you’ve ever spent a fair bit of time and effort making a to-do list yourself, only to then bunk-off instead of actually getting on with it – then you might find this useful.

In simple terms, Moral Self-Licensing is when people unconsciously allow themselves to indulge after they’ve done something positive.

Research suggests that it affects individual behaviour in a variety of contexts, including: consumer purchases, political opinions, charitable giving, energy policy, job hiring, racial attitudes, health-related decision-making, risky sexual behavior, alcohol consumption and diet.

In terms of productivity, the influence of Moral Self-Licensing is likely to mean a slump in achieving things between the planning and the doing stages. My experience with individual and team clients is that the effect is particularly pronounced when:

  • The issues that people were agreeing upon or planning actions for were especially difficult or threatening to address. This means that they feel unusually positive about having finally got down to addressing them and are (unconsciously) more likely to give themselves moral self-license to be ‘indulgent’ afterwards;
  • Physical energy levels are low and/or have been lowered by the planning or to-do-listing activities (especially likely when long journeys or stodgy meals are involved I suspect). I don’t know if there’s research to support this, but I’ve often thought that low energy levels are likely to reduce the threshold for moral self-license, since our mind/body systems are designed to look after our short-term survival and to prioritise food and rest now.

So what can you do if you notice that there’s a productivity slump between the planning and the action stages?

  1. Plan for it
    Since the tendency to be indulgent after we’ve done something positive is such a widespread and unconscious phenomena, it makes sense to me to expect it to happen. When you’ve had people in meetings and you all agree on a list of actions, why not explicitly agree an ‘indulgency period’ during which nobody is required to actually do anything productive until they’ve given themselves a treat of some kind;
  2. Actively be Rested and Healthy
    If it’s true that the productivity slump caused by moral self-license is more pronounced when people are already tired, then we can prepare for that by taking active steps to be properly rested and healthy. Less coffee and more naps, perhaps?
  3. Delegate
    Have somebody who wasn’t at the meeting, and who therefore won’t be experiencing their own moral self-license indulgence (at least, not yet), be responsible for reminding about, chasing and/or kick-starting the actions;
  4. Organise
    Make sure that your meetings, your decision-making-processes and the techniques you use to organise actions are as effective and as frictionless as possible. Consider using trained facilitators to help design agendas and processes. The less this feels like an effort, the less likely people are to indulge afterwards;
  5. Don’t Procrastinate
    The longer you put-off or fail to address difficult issues and tasks, the more you’re unconsciously likely to feel that you deserve an indulgence after you finally get around to deciding to do something about them.


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Leadership Modes and Trekking

Why leadership, and the styles you use, are a lot like going on a tough hike

We had an amazing family break this summer, as part of a group camping and trekking in the US national parks in Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Being part of a group of strangers thrown together in relatively tough conditions like that is, for me at least, a great chance to see how we lead and behave together. Although there’s a guide, different people take-on different leadership roles during the trek as situations change and this one was over enough time to see how the dynamics worked.

I noted lots of different kinds of leadership modes in operation on the trek. And I know from my coaching that the same opportunities to lead like this come-up again and again at work.

So, as I write this at the end of the calendar year, I’m curious to know which of these leadership modes have been part of your kitbag at work over the last year?
Which is the one that tends to predominate for you?
And which is the mode you hardly ever use?

At the head of the group on a walk
Usually the fittest person, or the one keenest to get us to the campsite before sundown! Says stuff like: “Come on, if we step-up the pace a little, we’ll be there in no time”

Standing up and holding a map
Full of enthusiasm for what’s possible to go and see that day. Says stuff like: “Did you guys know that there’s a hidden valley right over this bluff? The views down to the river at sunrise will be spectacular”

In the team van at a crossroads
Wants everybody to have the best experience, for them. Says stuff like: “Looks like we’ve got two choices of destinations, and/or an early lunch. What do you guys feel like doing together?”

Being clear at the campfire
Managing a bunch of tired, hungry and mixed-experience campers. Says stuff like: “You go get some water, you get the campfire going and you two get the grill set-up; I’ll show you how”

Keeping us together during a trek
At the back, in the middle, at the front; starting conversations; checking people are ok. Says stuff like: “Would you mind keeping an eye on Steve and checking that his knee isn’t playing-up later on?”

At the start of a trail
Wants each person to experience all that they’re capable of. Says stuff like: “If you want to, you’ll be able to get right to the end of this canyon today. How much water do you think you’ll take?”

Let me know how your own leadership modes changed with circumstances during the year?

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Team Performance Using DRIL

A simple four-step approach to great team performance

I’m often surprised by how much of an expectation people set for themselves about being able to do stuff exactly right, first time. It happens a lot in business; even with professionals who’ve spent years acquiring expert knowledge in their subject. In other walks of life – the arts, the military, for example – there’s a much more progressive attitude to practising things before being expected to get them right.

And the area where people seem to have the highest expectations without putting in preparation is about how teams perform. Great teams don’t just happen – they are created and nurtured.

Here’s my DRIL – the four steps for getting really great performance out of teams:

  1. Design – what is it you want to achieve and how, together, will you go about it?
  2. Rehearse – practise it; walk it through in your minds or on the whiteboard;
  3. Implement – if you can hold-off implementation long enough to have done Design and Rehearse, then it can be done fast and with conviction, often saving time;
  4. Learn – you’d think that learning from what worked and what didn’t would be old news by now. It isn’t – maybe because a great team is never done learning.


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Strategic Management

What to do if your board or top-team is not looking at the critical success factors that your business needs to tackle

It’s easy for boards and top-teams to get caught-up in the routine of managing the business and even in the routine of managing the board agenda! My experience has been that if you give people the opportunity to examine the right issues and some structure to do it with, they’ll usually be more than ready to do so.

As a working definition, a Critical Success Factor (CSF) is anything that is vital for your strategy to be successful. You can think of a CSF as a make or break issue – hence “critical”.  One relatively easy way to identify some of your CSFs is to ask the question: “Why would a customer choose us instead of a competitor?

Just occasionally, there are two factors which can unconsciously create resistance to taking the right amount and quality of time for your board or top-team to properly examine the factors that make your business successful. Those are:

  1. without necessarily admitting it to themselves or to each other, directors are aware that something important is not going right
  1. the organization is very busy but not outstandingly successful financially and there’s an “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentally getting in the way of doing it better.

If that’s the case in your business, you’ll need to act as a catalyst and influencer so that the right people will give these issues their conscious attention. If you’re the boss, that’s relatively easy to do and it may be you’ve just not had the time or process to think about it before. If you’re not the boss, you’ll need to start building alliances and setting out the case for change, so that the Critical Success Factors for your business can be managed properly.

If you want to get a head-start identifying your CSFs, try downloading my area-analysis grid by clicking on the picture at the top of this article. This grid is also a great process to use at a board awayday session. Try sticking a big grid on the wall or the floor and then populating it with Post-its.


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A Leaders’ Guide to One-to-One Meetings

Ten ways to use one-to-one meetings to block progress, disempower people and avoid an embarrassing sense of being a team


Click on the picture above to download your own copy.


Oh, and I forgot number 11:

Always write it as “1-2-1” and never “one-to-one”. Because (a) words are just so hard to type and read, and (b) it’s so much quicker to use numbers and other shorthand than to muck about referring to actual people.

Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Flowchart for Dealing with Difficult Team Leaders

The 5 questions and 3 outcomes for when a leader in your business is behaving negatively, derailing things or upsetting people

Please click the image above to open and download a copy of the flowchart.

Content summary:

1. Symptoms of a difficult team leader include:

  • Excessive and disruptive micro-managing;
  • Blaming people and processes outside of their team for failures;
  • Intimidating their own “weaker” team members;
  • Criticising any initiatives that originated outside their team or are outside their control.

The Five Questions you must ask in this situation:

  1. Has their boss told them that this is unacceptable?
  2. Have their team members had sufficient training & development?
  3. Are they being expected to achieve something which is at odds with the company culture?
  4. Can they be given significantly more autonomy over selecting, developing & organising their team?
  5. Have they had some good-quality, in-depth behavioural coaching over a substantial period?

The Three Outcomes you should plan for:

  1. They change their behaviour
  2. You change the organisation
  3. You ask them to leave

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Transitioning to the Board or Top-Team

The six key mindset changes you must make to be successful in your first job on the board

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