Leadership’s Most Ignored Tool

One on one
The most effective tool leaders have at their disposal is also the most ignored.

What happened to talking with our team members, one-on-one, over coffee? I think we’ve become so busy that we no longer allow time to do this most important leadership function, but do we really save time by neglecting our one-on-ones?

There is an old leadership saying:

Loyalty is most often won in private.

If you believe this, you understand why taking the time to sit down with a team member and ask “How are you?” is so important. It is so important that if you fail to do it regularly (at least once a week), and with all team members – right through to the receptionist – I guarantee that you will spend much more time hiring new people than you will ‘waste’ doing one-on-ones.

Ask “How are you?” and you may avert a performance slump, resignation, or even better, you may help your team member overcome a personal problem. This is the highest calling of leadership and the one that wins loyalty above all others.

And do listen to what your team member answers to the “How are you?” question. Never accept “Good” or “Okay” without further questioning. Listen to the tone of voice and observe the body language. If you detect a cover-up ask this question: “How are you, REALLY?”

You might be surprised what you learn. Perhaps the team member is not getting the support from her spouse and is thinking of leaving. It might explain why her performance has waned. Now you know what the problem is, you might decide to take your team member and her spouse for dinner and see if you can address the problem.

Sure, it might not work, but thanks to the one-on-one you know what’s coming and are in a position to prevent it rather than do what many leaders do, which is to express total surprise at the resignation, followed by despair, followed by a vain attempt to fix the problem. It’s often too late.

Are one-on-ones time consuming? Try hiring and training a newcomer and judge for yourself which is the best time investment.

In our Real Estate Agency Management Program we plead with leaders to spend time with their team members, ranging from meeting twice a day with recruits who are in their first month with the company, through to once a week with experienced people, for as long as they remain with the company.

I believe that a one-on-one with each team member once a week is the bare minimum. Some people might think this is over the top, but let me warn you: ignore your people and you will spend more time hiring.

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