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Leadership Mistake Two: Failure to Prioritise One-To-One Meetings

This lesson is a part of an audio course Leadership Lessons from Your Followers by Andy Edwards

Welcome to lesson three which covers our second failure… failure to implement regular one-to-one meetings with each individual follower.

Leadership is about engaging, inspiring, motivating, guiding, and resourcing people in your charge to the point that they acknowledge you as their leader. At which time you'll have their trust, loyalty, and commitment. Making things SO much easier all round!

Failure two is the failure by a leader to meet individually with each and every team member AT LEAST once a month.

I call these one-to-ones - you may refer to them as something different, but this should be a ten minute to half an hour meeting to ensure you are supporting your follower in the right ways for them.

As an aside, I hear some leaders claim that they lead a team of fifteen or twenty people. No, they don't. If you were a full-time leader and only did leadership duties then you could POSSIBLY manage up to ten or twelve followers – and that would be pushing it. Most leaders, however, are NOT full-time leaders and have their own productivity, workload, or projects to deliver.

The problem is as soon as this "other" work gets in the way of being a leader and prevents you from making sure you solve these seven leadership failures, you'll always have a battle on your hands.

Why? Because without regular, ringfenced quality time with each of your followers, they start to feel ignored and unimportant. They lose the connection with "Management" causing passive (or active) rebellion through "Them and Us" justifications. Morale plummets, relationships suffer; and bear in mind a bad relationship with the boss is cited by around 80% of people who leave the organization.

Don't make it worse!

What can make this worse is that a leader recognizes that they "should" be doing these one-to-one meetings, puts them in the diary, then cancels them (often at short notice). This sends out the message, "My leadership of you – and hence your followership is actually less important to me than my other work". This increases the disconnect between you and your followers and leads to multiple symptoms; including a feeling of being undervalued, irrelevant, and disconnected.

I cannot stress the importance of NOT failing with this issue. It is such a fundamental element of your job as a leader. I simply cannot understand why leaders make excuses for this NOT to happen. Excuses like:

"But I am always speaking with my people…" And that's as it should be, but it's not ringfenced, quality, uninterrupted private time with you.

"But I just let them get on with it, they don't need me." Doesn't sound like you're leading anyone then – I mean if they don't need you to be their leader, what ARE your responsibilities towards them?

"It's ok Andy, we do all that stuff at the appraisal." You mean the yearly round-up of good and bad - half of which is six months out of date? Appraisals are excellent when done well, but the one-to-one is very different. It's regular, often and can more formally address issues than a catch up on the shop floor. Especially if that issue relates to an individual follower.

"But we have team meetings." Rightly so – and team meetings will carry a very different agenda than your one-to-ones.

And then the biggest excuse of all: "But I haven't got the time." Time invested in being a good leader will create productive, committed, loyal, and valuable followers. Perhaps the problem is that much of your time is clearing up the mess left behind in your wake as an ineffective leader. Perhaps, if your followers were led better, your workload would actually reduce?

My recommendation is that, if you currently don't do one-to-one's with your followers, then you start them yesterday!

If your followers could speak freely and fearlessly they might say:

We value the chance to have your undivided attention. We can talk about what's important to us as individuals - and you can understand what engages, inspires, and motivates us as individuals. You can also offer assistance where we are struggling. You can even "nip-in-the-bud" an aspect of our behavior before it becomes an issue!

So get a sense of how important these meetings are.

As their significant resource, followers will naturally turn to you for what they need. And one of the best ways of being there for individual followers is the regular, prioritized, ringfenced time that I call one-to-one (but call it what YOU like!)

If you have never done these then start them by doing them once a week, then release to once a fortnight. I think every couple of weeks is optimal. However, as you build exemplary trusted relationships with your followers, then you MIGHT get away with doing these once a month. But certainly no less frequently!

And Prioritise them: These appointments should trump pretty much ANYTHING ELSE you do. Under the extraordinarily rare circumstances (like a plague, pestilence or brimstone!) of needing to postpone, then do this immediately you become aware of the problem, and re-appoint for as soon as possible afterward.

The best leaders I know have NEVER postponed (let alone canceled) a one-to-one with their followers. Even during the Covid 19 Lockdown in 2020, they were Skyping and Zooming so as not to let their followers down.

How long for? The optimal time is about twenty minutes – so these meetings do not have to be onerous in terms of time. However, they will pay back your investment of that time many, many folds, with more confident, valued, purposeful, and productive followers.

Be prepared for these meetings NOT to work well in the first instance. Followers will expect you to do all the talking initially and may be reticent to say what's really on their minds – which, of course, is a symptom of your relationship right there! However, with your perseverance, a few awkward minutes of silence, and your clarity of expectation, the meetings will turn around soon enough, I promise.

As for an agenda: By all means, send out an agenda beforehand (especially in the early days) and ask them to bring answers to your questions. And understand that, as these meetings progress, you can loosen that agenda considerably as you and your followers develop your own rhythm.


As part of the initial meeting, by all means, keep it general. If it's their style, shoot the breeze for a couple of minutes about "stuff" that's going on. You might pick up on something which will lead you into the meeting proper, but largely this is to relax both of you!

Here's a good question: Do you have a theme or goal for the next twenty minutes? This can be yours and/or theirs.

And what about asking them to give you a score out of ten for "work". Consciously avoid seven! If it's average, then the score is five. If it's not going well then two, three, or four. If it pretty much couldn't be better, then nine or ten is fine. A great opener and easy to follow up with: why that particular score and how would we go from THAT figure to the next one up?

What are the three things that are going well at the moment? Subsequently, what can you do to support, capitalize, encourage this further?

What is the one thing you would change right now? Whatever their response (if any) listen without defense, attack, or explanation.

What do you think should be done about this? You want to get them used to being part of the solution rather than the problem.

Is there anything you would like me to address or keep an eye on? This can be excellent fuel for your next one-to-one.

How might I be letting you down at the moment? This question is so powerful and important, we have a separate chapter dedicated to it at the end of the book.

Work up your own set of questions and subject matter to form your own agenda. If you want your follower to bring information, send out the request in good time. And be specific: rather than "Bring your ideas as to how we could speed up our workflow." "Ask that they bring just two ideas that might help speed up our workflow."

Whatever you do, prioritize, protect, persevere, and be patient. There is probably no more important leadership activity than this!

So, before you advance to the next lesson, write down your thoughts and ideas of the questions you think would be worth asking members of your team… you might want to develop this into an agenda for your ongoing one to ones.

The next lesson looks at our next leadership failure – and it's a biggie. Failure to close the loop on your team's requests, observations, or suggestions.

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Written by

Andy Edwards