The Advancing Leadership Blog

The Power of One-to-Ones

Catherine_cropCoaching Managers

Many CEOs are aware, in a general way at least, that coaching and mentorship are important for boosting the performance of their management team and for creating an engaging work environment. One of the most powerful CEO coaching tools is the one-to-one meeting because it’s an opportunity to focus on strategic issues and high-level conversations about the future of the manager, their department, and even that of the company.

There is a risk that this type of big-picture communication can take a back seat to conversations about daily tactical issues, particularly in smaller entrepreneurial organizations. But by taking the time to give a member of the management team their undivided attention about high-level issues, a CEO is sending the message that the manager’s individual opinions are valued. The one-to-one also allows a CEO to build alignment with regard to vision, mission and goals and to get a deeper sense of how their direct reports think and problem solve.

This four-step process, used by CEOs within the TEC community for conducting effective one-to-ones, has withstood the test of time:

  • Schedule the one-to-ones and make that time sacrosanct. If you don’t, the crisis of the moment may take precedence.
  • Ask your report to prepare the agenda, with a mix of strategic and professional developmental issues and stick to it, without deviating into your own goals.
  • Listen more than you talk. Don’t give in to the CEO tendency of jumping in to try to solve a problem. Talented managers will foster stimulating ideas that it will be in your interest to hear.
  • Agree to and create an action plan, with expected outcomes and deadlines to foster accountability.

As a CEO, if you have these conversations with your reports once a month, your coaching abilities will improve and you will be on your way to developing stronger, more effective teams.


Coaching CEOs

Now let’s turn to the idea of coaching the coach. There is a paradox in the fact that, although CEOs act as coaches to their own reports, nearly two-thirds of North American CEOs don’t receive coaching from outside sources themselves, according to a 2013 study by Stanford Business School. This despite the fact that 100% of those surveyed indicated they enjoy and benefit from the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice. This hesitancy around coaching may be because it is still seen as remedial, when in fact CEOs committed to life-long learning understand the on-going value of receiving advice from a trusted mentor/coach such as a TEC Chair.

Even the best CEOs have their blind spots. I have personally experienced the ways in which an experienced, trusted mentor, who can look at the business from 30,000 feet and has no agenda or vested interest except the CEO’s success, can provide transformative advice and improve a CEO’s capacity, effectiveness and leadership qualities.

The highest area of concern for most CEOs in the Stanford survey was conflict management skills; other top areas that CEOs are focused on using coaching to improve are team-building, mentoring, and delegation. It’s important to point out that there is tremendous value in a one-to-one session apart from the skill development aspect however. They provide you as a CEO the opportunity to establish a candid rapport and level of trust with your mentor/coach which, combined with the accountability fostered by this relationship, can act as a catalyst for positive change in your business and personal life.

How do you conduct one-to-ones? What kind of coaching do you think works for a CEO? Explore the resources in our Thought Leadership Wire (#TLW) and feel free to let us know what you think!

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