March 26, 2018

Are Your One-on-One Meetings with Direct Reports Feeling Stale? Add Conscious Leadership …

Turning your one-on-ones from pedestrian checklist run-throughs to opportunities for connection and growth.
Conscious Leadership
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Writing alone can be lonely. So in addition to bringing more perspectives from startup leaders in my orbit to this space, I’m also going to occasionally bring in a co-author for posts. It’s more fun for me and way better for you. In finding optimal co-creators for blogs or my podcast, I look for people with complementary experience and/or mindset. Today’s post is a great example. Meet Dennis Adsit, and learn more about him and what he does in the world at Adsum Insights. Dennis spends more time thinking about the Organization as the, in his words, “unit of analysis,” which complements my focus on individuals.- Sue

MeetMindful, a company with which Sue has worked over the last few years, sent the majority of its staff to the a three day Conscious Leadership Camp Sue runs with her co-facilitator Leah Pearlman. These camps draw heavily from the work of Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp and their best-selling book 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.

As a radical oversimplification, Conscious Leadership encourages more awareness of self and others, more personal responsibility, and an environment that allows people to bring their whole selves to work. This post assumes you have had some exposure to this work. If you’ve not, read the book and/or attend a half-day or three-day event to learn more.

Yesterday, a senior leader from MeetMindful asked Sue a pointed question:  

We are getting some traction with the Conscious Leadership principles but we want to weave it deeper into the fabric of the way we work.  We do all these one-on-one meetings between bosses and their employees, how could we make Conscious Leadership a part of that?

This is a great question, and it bodes well for MeetMindful’s ability to make Conscious Leadership a meaningful part of the way they work because they are thinking about how to dye it in the wool.

What we know about change is that if a company wants to alter its approach to leading and managing, it has to find a way to bake it into its regular operating rhythm and mechanisms.  A change effort can’t be sustained as something separate.  It has to be linked to the strategy and tied to leading and lagging outcome measures..  And those metrics and plans to improve have to be part of key planning and review processes, ongoing staff meetings, and one-on-one meetings with direct reports.

Changing something always starts with a clear-eyed assessment of current reality.  For many, one-on-ones are perfunctory, “what have you done for me lately” progress reports: what are the priorities?  what did you get done?  what will you get done by next time?  what might jeopardize you getting this done (which can be loosely translated as whose heads do I need to knock together to make sure this doesn’t falter)?  Is this approach expedient?  Yes.  Holistic and connected?  Not on your life.

Get Present

‍Dennis Adsit of Adsum Insights

If you and your direct report slide into your one-on-ones, open up your screens, and bounce between 10 open apps to update on different moving parts, you kick off the meeting in the red on presence. Make every effort to do what conscious leaders do: Get here now. Presence doesn't have to look like lighting incense and sitting cross-legged on the floor. This is just a reminder to pause a moment before starting a one-on-one for both parties to get aware of and potentially share what’s happening for them in that moment.

Second, use a check-in exercise. Here are a few we like:

  • Take 60 seconds of shared silence. Set a timer, close your eyes, focus on your breath.
  • Offer respective one-minute updates on anything that might be distracting each of you from the focus of this meeting right now.
  • Take a three-minute walk together around the office or around the block sans devices

Consider Context

Most one-on-ones (or any other meeting in life) are based more on the content – KPI’s, deliverables, misses, makes. Conscious leaders pay attention to context. Not “what are we talking about” but “how are we talking about it” or “from what context have we approached this issue.”

Most recurring issues for you or your direct reports are tied to the context of a matter as opposed to the content, so pay attention to this dichotomy in your one-on-ones.

Try a simple question now and then: “What are some of the contextual elements affecting this issue or how you’re viewing it or approaching it?” Second, “If we shifted the context for this matter, would we approach it differently?”  And finally, expanding beyond this particular issue to look for potential pattern insights:  “Is that contextual framing similar to other issues you’re working on now?”

Up the Energy By Making Room For Emotions

Finding a way to bring an emotional dimension into the conversation in a one-on-one is a game-changer  You could ask your team member to start with a list of wins, events or accomplishments that he/she is excited about. On the way to the win, has a new “best practice” been identified? The leader and the employee could then discuss how these successes could be shared more broadly to spread the excitement and sense of progress. Best practices would also be shared so the learning and insights could be leveraged.

Another area where more emotion could be added is to have the employee share the results or lack thereof with which they were disappointed. Where did they fall short?  Where did they let the team down?   Where did they not keep their agreements?  It doesn’t have to be all bad news.  When results did not live up to expectations, were there silver linings and progress indicators?  

Finally, fear is a powerful emotion that few like to talk about, but is has a huge effect on our actions.  We are not suggesting discussing existential fears, North Korea, or the run-up of BitCoin.  It can be a question this simple:  “As you look out over the next couple of months, what are you worried about and what steps are you taking to address the issues that are concerning you?”

Keep the Focus on Learning

The questions discussed set the stage for sine qua non of Conscious Leadership: an openness to learning.  Wins are discussed in terms of potential best practices that can be shared.  Outlining disappointments would be followed by some reflections on what was learned from the shortfalls.  What will be done differently should this situation recur in the future?

Take Responsibility

This again nicely sets up another key tenet of Conscious Leadership: taking personal responsibility.  Celebrate wins and the people who contributed to them.  For shortfalls, what were your and your direct report’s contributions to the misses?  As items of concern are shared, the employee should also say what actions he or she is taking to address the issue, including revealing their concerns to the stakeholders beyond the manager.

Ask for and Extend Support

The final area to touch on in a conscious one-on-one is support.  Many believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness, a reflection of a house not in order.  But few outcomes of consequence can be accomplished without cooperation and teamwork.  So asking an employee to share where he or she needs help is not only not a sign of weakness; it is more like an insurance policy on success.  

And as with the other areas, asking where an employee wants support dovetails nicely into a follow-up question: what are you doing to support others on the team or in other functions?  It is not going to work very well if everyone is just standing around holding out their begging bowls asking for help.  A culture of teamwork and mutual support is begat by a willingness to provide support to others, maybe not always first, but concomitantly.  Asking someone to reflect on how they are supporting the agendas of others is a step in this direction.

Stick the Landing

Adding these elements to a standard templated one-on-one can turn pedestrian status reports into opportunities to build connection and a shared vision with your team members. Those aspiring to be conscious leaders will want to add more perspective, transparency, emotional awareness, and responsibility to the standard approach. Conscious leaders find opportunities to create conversations and relationships built on openness and authenticity.

Try these tips and give yourself and your direct reports a chance to make those features a matter of weekly housekeeping versus, say, words on a plaque by the elevator. Let us know how it goes.


Want to bring more Conscious Leadership to your company or organization? Check out our next three-day Leadership Camps (some for women and some for everyone). We have a women’s camp and a coed camp coming up.

Dennis Adsit

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