In the fast-paced world of business, leaders often find themselves in a whirlwind of tasks and responsibilities. As we navigate change and strive for success, it’s easy to overlook the power of connecting with our people on a personal level, with the justification that we’re ‘just too busy’, says communication expert Leah Mether, author of Steer through the Storm.
However, as a leader, making time to meet for proactive 1:1 coaching conversations with your staff is one of the smartest time investments you can make. These conversations not only strengthen relationships but also lead to better business results.
Coaching conversations are not about providing quick fixes or playing the role of a rescuer; they are about asking questions with curiosity, prompting reflection, and using future-focused inquiry to help people find their own insights and answers. These conversations focus more on the person rather than their tasks and are an opportunity for leaders to build stronger relationships – a key to building influence.
Make time for conversations
While many leaders believe they don’t have time for regular 1:1 meetings, the truth is you can’t afford to neglect them. Proactively dedicating time to connect with your team members is more efficient than dealing with people problems, low morale, lost productivity and poor behaviour later on. Coaching conversations build trust and provide valuable insight into a person’s engagement and challenges. This allows leaders to intervene and offer support before issues escalate and also provides a deeper understanding of each person’s uncertainties, concerns, goals, motivations and career aspirations. This understanding will help you to lead them more effectively.
Making the time to meet with your staff will look different for different leaders depending on the size of their teams, the work they do, and the time pressures they face. While formal 1:1 meetings are beneficial if possible, coaching conversations can also happen informally. The key is to make time for regular check-ins, and not only with the people who are visibly struggling.
How to incorporate 1:1 conversations into your leadership
- Monthly formal meetings: Blocking out a full day once a month to accommodate all team members for formal 30-45 minute 1:1 conversations.
- Regular rotation: Scheduling two formal 30-45 minute l coaching conversations each week and rotating through team members to ensure everyone is met every four to eight weeks.
- Informal opportunistic conversations: Using “walking the floor” to have impromptu 1:1 chats with team members.
- Working alongside team members: Using work alongside opportunities to have meaningful conversations.
To make the most of coaching conversations, treating them as important as any KPI or deadline is essential. Avoid letting them fall by the wayside or becoming sidetracked by task-focused to-do list discussions. This requires discipline as tasks are often a leader’s comfort zone, and these coaching conversations require a different approach: they are human-focused conversations aimed at building strong connections.
Ask open-ended questions
As for the questions to ask during these 1:1 meetings, there is no one-size-fits-all answer but as a guide, make them open-ended with direction. Here are some examples:
- If you had to use two words to describe how you feel about your work at the moment, what would they be?
- What have you been loving about your work?
- What frustrates you about your work?
- What’s been your biggest win / what are you most proud of?
- What did you learn or would you do differently next time?
- What is challenging you at the moment?
- If you had a magic wand, what change would you make to improve the performance of the team?
- What do you need from me/how can I support you?
- What opportunities would you like to pursue?
- How do you like to be communicated with?
- What’s one thing I should know that would help me to lead you through the next few weeks/months?
- If this year goes great for you personally and professionally, what would happen?
Remember, these are high-trust conversations and their success lies in asking questions with genuine curiosity and then really listening to the response. Resist the temptation to problem-solve for your team members. Your role in these meetings is to coach.
By prioritising 1:1 coaching conversations with your staff, you shift from simply managing tasks to empowering and supporting your people, especially during tough times. These conversations are the gateway to stronger relationships and more engaged and resilient teams. By asking more and telling less, you’ll get the information you need to proactively address issues and help your people to find their own way through the storm of challenge and change.
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