Leaders need to set regular meeting times with their workers and make sure the time is spent well: here are eleven steps they can take to make that time highly productive and rewarding.
In my experience, less than 50% of leaders hold regular meetings with those reporting to them. An absence of meaningful conversation between boss and worker creates distance, significantly increasing attrition among the highest performers, and diminishes organizational effectiveness. That's aside from the fact that it's hard to tell what's going on with them, which makes communication even harder.
Every time I start work with a new executive coaching client, I ask them a few questions right up front: do they meet with each of their key people regularly? Are they spending quality time, periodically, with others in their organization? Do they spend most of the time listening? Also, thinking back over the last six months, have the meetings proven to be effective, as measured by results?
Most answer no to some or all of those questions. Further, among those who take the time to meet with their people, there's significant room for improvement.
Whether or not they are aware of it, my client (the leader) is usually doing most of the talking, the meetings aren't designed well, the direct report isn't disclosing important information, or the topics covered are low priority.
The strongest, most confident and effective leaders act as coaches toward their people. However, many leaders think coaching means "telling." In contrast, Coaching is listening. That's hard to do if you don't make the most of your time with those reporting to you.
What are the "best practices" in meeting with direct reports? Leadership Unleashed proposes leaders think of those meetings as so-called "Sacred Time," and have prepared the following key elements that go into highly effective, productive discussions:
1. Leader takes charge of scheduling the meetings and adhering to the schedule.
2. Meetings are held on a regular basis and considered a high priority / not canceled or rescheduled unless the sky is falling.
3. Meetings are set up as interruption-free time for both people: computer, phones, email, and pagers/PDA"s turned off, and the door is shut.
4. Meeting length is determined by content, based on both people's assessments of what's needed to be discussed..
5. Meetings one on one, face-to-face, or voice-to-voice
6. Leader asks only high-priority supportive, results-oriented questions, for example:
- "What's the most important thing we can talk about today?"
- "What do you need?"
- "What are you up against? / What are your biggest challenges or headaches right now?"
- "What are you not addressing that, if solved, would help the situation more forward?"
- "What am I avoiding or not seeing, that, if addressed, would help you be more effective?"
- "Tell me one thing you don't want me to know."
7. Leader avoids asking "why" questions, particularly about the past.
8. Leader keeps the time frame being discussed in the present and the near future.
9. Leader monitors their own listening -- that is, they keep quiet over 80% of the time. If tempted to speak, they can ask themselves to "WAIT" and listen (W.A.I.T. - "Why Am I Talking?")
10. Leader lets pregnant silences be okay -- as Susan Scott puts it, they "let the silence do the heavy lifting."
11. Leader and direct report periodically evaluate together the effectiveness of these meetings, and make adjustments as necessary.
By taking such steps, Leaders will find their time with direct reports both highly effective and rewarding for all involved.