3 Tips for Doing One-on-Ones: Skill #1 Approachability

I have developed and coached leaders for a decade now, as well as sitting in the seat as a ‘busy and stressed out executive’.  It was in the latter role that I began to see my own relationships with my people deteriorate because I was too busy and distracted by challenges I could only share with a trusted peer, my leader, or (more than likely) my spouse.  So I know One-on-Ones are hard.  I also know they are critical to leading well in any environment, but especially in a fast paced environment.

One of the key things a leader has to develop is APPROACHABILITY.   The Leadership Architect® by Lominger describes Approachability as:

Is easy to approach and talk to;  spends extra effort to put others at ease; can be warm, pleasant, and gracious; is sensitive to and patient with the interpersonal anxieties of others;  builds rapport well;  is a good listener;  is an early knower, getting informal and incomplete information in time to do something about it.

First, I get to sit with leaders as an outside expert there to support them.  Rarely do I meet with someone that does not fit this – when they are relaxed, maybe having a glass of wine or a coffee, and they are across from someone focused 100% on what they need (my role as a coach).  So let’s start with a few reasons why others don’t see you as Approachable.  Here are some excuses I have heard from some highly paid/skilled professionals as to why they don’t approach you for One-on-One time.

  • She seems so busy, I hate to bother her.  Even when her door is open or she is darting from meeting to meeting she seems deep in thought.  She is a kind person, but I can’t bring myself to interrupt her.
  • It feels weak for me to ask for time.  We have had so many layoffs in the last decade, that I somehow feel like if I ask for time I might fall into the ‘needy/hard to manage’ group that ends up being the first on the list that gets generated as soon as we see a soft sales forecast.  I need the direction and feedback, but end up talking myself out of asking almost every time.  The last time I scheduled a One-on-One I thought about it for almost a year before I asked.
  • I don’t see him doing that with his leader or the board.  If he does not see the value in it why would he do it with me?
  • She mentioned scheduling something once, but that is the last time we heard about it.  Our filter with her on work she asks us to do is jump on it when she mentions it the second time, so until we hear it a second time we don’t think she is serious.
  • To do it means getting past his assistant, who scares me.  One time Jill asked for some time and after the grilling she got from Shannon ‘The Pit Bull’, Jill never went back.  Jill still tears up when she tells the story.  Nobody messes with The Pit Bull.

Here are three moves you can make to be seen as SKILLED in the area of approachability.

  1. You own scheduling the first 6 meetings.  This gets them past the Pit Bull in your life, shows them you are serious, and takes the burden off of them.
  2. Always lace your script with questions.  Start with – What significant things have happened for you in the past week? Then work in:  What are your three priorities this week?, What celebrations have you had since we last met?”  and What support will you need over the coming weeks?  Being skilled at approachability means you get informal and incomplete information in time to do something about it – – – and the only way you get that is to ask questions and listen for what keeps being mentioned by one person or is a theme across your team.
  3. Never miss without rescheduling, and never extend the committed time.  The reality is you are busy, and if you say 30 minutes stick to it.  At least part of your team needs to learn to be brief and focused with the time, and you are not helping it by sitting there for an hour every time.   If they need more time schedule it right there, but end with “How can I support you between now and our next One-on-One?”.

This is the beginning of a series around One-on-Ones.  I welcome your thoughts and comments on what has worked.  I answer all comments on my blog or emails, so send me a note.

Much of leadership is about great conversations.  When we have them, good things happen.  Step 1 is being more approachable.