I guess we start this year with optimism and yet less certainty than we would normally do.  I know most of my friends are much more likely to say ‘If I can…’ rather than ‘I intend to…’ when it comes to personal plans and projects. 2020 was a stark reminder of both how resourceful and how powerless we are as individuals and as humanity.

So, within this ongoing unusual context, I wish you all the very best for 2021.

Over the next few weeks, as we look forward to the year ahead, I’ll be sharing four key leadership habits that I have found, both as a leader myself and in my work coaching senior leaders, have a significantly positive impact for leaders and the people they lead. Over the next 12 months, applying these consistently will help you and your teams deliver better results with less effort and more confidence on everyone’s part. 

This week’s key leadership habit is to hold scheduled one-to-ones at least once a month with each person who reports directly to you. And set an expectation that those individuals will do the same with each member of their team.

If you are already in the habit of regular one-to-ones, you’ll know the many benefits they bring. But if you’re still to be convinced that this is a worthwhile investment of your time, let me assure of the three big paybacks you will get, usually in a surprisingly short time:

  • People will deliver better results that consistently meet your expectations because you will establish shared clarity and understanding.
  • You will free up time because there will be fewer ad hoc discussions.
  • You will find that proactive decision-making replaces reactionary problem-solving because you will have focussed time with each member of your team. 

The people you lead will benefit too. They will:

  • Operate with greater confidence because they will be clear about your expectations and your views on what they are delivering.
  • Feel more valued because you give them focussed time. 
  • Learn and develop because they have time to reflect and think rather than constantly operating ‘on-the-run’.

Overall, performance, productivity and results will increase. 
Two common assumptions that I’d counsel against:

  • That the ad hoc catch-ups you have with your team members will bring the same benefits or indeed mean one-to-ones aren’t needed. Ad hoc catch-ups will not bring the same benefits as a focussed, dedicated one-to-one. In fact, ad hoc catch-ups often cause damage by increasing dependence on reactionary problem-solving and they’re too often done when both parties are really focussed on something else.
  • That the most senior leaders do not need regular one-to-ones. They do – seasoned Executive Leaders want and need the same undivided time and attention from their leader as a new frontline manager needs from theirs.

And finally, my top five tips for holding an effective one-to-one.

1. The primary focus must be on exploring the individual’s needs, not on the individual giving you a business update. While this is likely to be a part of the one-to-one, the reason for the update should be to help the other person reflect, learn and problem-solve, rather than primarily to reassure you that they are on track.

2. Split the one-to-one into three key segments – review of the past month, preparation for the upcoming month, and general check-in and discussion time. Split the time evenly so that you give all of these your attention.

3. When you review the past month, discuss achievements, barriers/concerns and learning. When you look ahead to the next month, discuss goals, barriers/concerns to resolve and support required. 

4. Give your feedback, making sure you focus on both what is going well and what needs to change.

5. Be sure to find out what support the individual will need from you to help them move forward.

So, that’s my first recommended key leadership habit for 2021. Schedule them today and keep them rolling. By the end of March, you’ll find the benefits give you the impetus to make this a monthly habit.

In my next article, I’m going to share why coaching can be a really damaging leadership habit and how to make it an effective habit in 2021 and beyond.

New Year’s Resolutions That Will Really Pay Off