Better Conversations, Better Outcomes

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How a little self-awareness and focus can go a long way

For years, I’ve provided leadership training and development on the various conversations that occur between leaders and direct reports. The regular conversations between these two parties are usually about coaching, accountability, performance, training, teamwork or communication. So, it’s not surprising the water gets murky when you consider all the skills a leader needs to possess when guiding these diverse conversations or meetings.

In most cases, leaders without training and self-awareness tend to cover everything in a 30- or 60-minute one-on-one meeting. And, the direct report is forced to sit through the supposed “coaching”, a difficult “accountability” chat, some “training”, various “housekeeping” items, and potentially more. To conclude the meeting, the leader will ask, “Now, is there anything I can do for you?” Not surprisingly, the direct report responds, “Nope!” as they can’t get out of their chair fast enough. So, how can leaders better engage with their employees and cover ground more effectively?

Define the Purpose of the Meeting

Before scheduling time with direct reports, it helps to create an agenda with the time available in mind. If you only have 30 minutes, consider spending five minutes debriefing from the last call or meeting, leaving 20 minutes to address the most pressing item on your agenda/mind, and another five minutes for recap and agreement on next steps.

A good rule of thumb is to separate all the housework items (projects, numbers and performance) from growth conversations (coaching, training and mentoring). This could very likely mean what was previously a 30-minute meeting needs to become two, separate 15-minute meetings. Or, a one-hour meeting becomes two, separate 30-minute meetings. Much more will likely be accomplished and both parties will better understand the aim or goal of each meeting.

Once the outline for a meeting’s agenda (i.e., purpose) is confirmed, it should become very clear which hat should be worn to the conversation, whether it’s the performance visor, the training cap, or the coaching beanie. Just remember to bring one and stick with it.

Sit Back, Actively Listen and Engage

Leaders who are running meetings, whatever the type, are responsible for introducing the agenda and expectations of the time spent together. Then, it’s time to be quiet and actively listen. Active listening involves the listener not only hearing the speaker but also observing their behavior and body language. By taking the entire person into consideration, the listener can gain a more accurate understanding of what the speaker is saying and how they feel. It allows for better questions, deeper conversation and an improved understanding of the topic.

Confirm Next Steps

Leaders and direct reports should conclude every meeting with a summary of what was discussed and confirmation of the next steps. The meeting summary proves both parties were actively listening, and each knows where future action lies.

Whether the meeting was a coaching session or a critical feedback opportunity, it won’t feel valuable or “worth it” to the direct report unless they have agreed to an action plan to create a new experience, reach a goal, or change a behavior.

Final Thought

Rather than going an inch deep and a mile wide, leaders can affect growth and behavior change by being specific and staying on topic. By taking a few minutes to develop a meeting plan or agenda, leaders are more likely to show up the way in which they are needed for their employees. Then, they can begin the good work of listening and asking questions that encourage team members to develop their own paths to success. Instead of trying to be “all things” to direct reports in one meeting, a singularly focused approach fosters trust, better communication and ultimately, better results.

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Interested in further developing your leadership skills? Download our whitepaper, “Five Strategies of Exceptional Leaders” today.

Or read this blog post from ADVISA Chairman Bob Wilson, “An Engaged Leader is a Present Leader.”