One-on-One Meetings

You must meet with every one of your direct subordinates for an hour, once a week. I don’t see an alternative to this. If you have 14 direct reports, that’s 14 hours out of your week, but so be it. If you have 50 direct reports, quit your job now.
    OK, maybe you don’t need to quit if you have 50 reports. You need to create another layer of management, even if it is unofficial. There are many names for such crypto-managers: team lead, project lead, focal point. Carefully pick one or two people at a time, give each a small group to start with, and support them. After a while, you will be meeting with project leads once a week, and they will be meeting with their people once a week. In time, the Team Leads will probably become actual managers, and you might get a fancier title too.
    Back to one-on-ones. That name is confrontational, so I usually abbreviat it 1:1. Schedule them for an hour. Often, they will run short, but sometimes it takes people 20 minutes to get warmed up, and you don’t want to have to cut them off just when they’re getting to the Thing That Is Really Eating At Them because the half-hour is up. Hold all the calls you can during these meetings. If you take a call during a 1:1, the 1:1 will probably not he productive and you might as well not have bothered. A nice side-effect of this approach is that, if the 1:1 runs short, you have some time at the end of the hour when you are unlikely to be interrupted.
    If you can’t meet with each of your people for an hour every week, meet with them for an hour every other week or in extreme cases an hour every third week. You should be able to meet with at least 15 people per week.
    Some engineers in particular are hard to get talking. You can ask them questions that aren’t too personal. If you’re new, ask them how long they’ve been at the company, what groups they’ve been in, what they did before, and so on.
    The main thing you do at this meeting is listen. Being heard makes people happy. You want your people to be happy. If you’re lucky, you might even think of something that will actually help your subordinate. But listen first. Avoid the temptation to jump in and give a bunch of advice. Let them finish their story.
    Then, ask some questions. This serves two functions: first, it gives you more time to think of something useful to say. Also, people usually know the answers to their problems, but they want a reality check on the answer. Ask them what approaches they have considered for their problem. If you like any of their approaches, say so. If you see down sides, ask if they have considered them. You could then discuss how things might work out.
    If you have some advice, and you think it’s pretty good, then go ahead and share it.
    If you don’t have any concrete advice, you can tell a story. Try to think of something similar that happened to you and what you did about it. If your solution didn’t work well, be sure to mention that.
    Often, a subordinate will have a problem, and they will need something from you to solve it. They will need a resource, permission to take an action, waiver of a rule, and so on. They may need for you to talk to someone in a different department, and find out what’s going on. They may need your protection. If you can’t give them what they want, tell them so now. They will get a frowny face, but they will be a lot more unhappy if you lead them to believe they have your help, and then you let them down. If you need to think about it, tell them you need to think about it.
    Sometimes, the person will ask you to do something that should not be done. Just say so. "Aww, I don’t think that’s a good way to resolve that problem."
    Sometimes, the person will come to you with something you are morally and/or legally required to act on. They may have discovered illegal or unethical activities. They may be experiencing sexual harassment or a hostile work environment. They may bring you a problem from outside of work that you are compelled to act on, based on the trust they placed in you. Don’t be a coward: do what needs to be done.
    Talk about positive things in 1:1s too. If you ask somebody how things are going, and they say, "great," ask why. Don’t dig around for something negative just so you’ll have a problem to solve. Sometimes, things really are going great and there are no pressing problems.
    Take notes at your 1:1s. Review them at the next 1:1, if appropriate. It’s OK to review them in front of your subordinate. They know you’re busy. That you took notes respects them almost as much as if the meeting were so important to you, you were sure you’d remember every detail and no notes are necessary.



Leadership is:
  • courage in the face of frightening things
  • the ability to articulate the importance of important things
  • the ability to convey your excitement for exciting things

You need all three to be much of a leader.
You can be a good leader and a bad manager. If you can’t be a good manager, you’ll have to be a good leader. If you can’t be a good leader, you’ll have to be an awfully good manager.
Leadership is important, because with leadership, you can get a bunch of people to work towards a common objective. Even if the common objective isn’t well-chosen, this situation will turn out better than everyone pursuing a different goal. So leadership ability is heavily rewarded in business.
To an extent, leadership is trainable. Courage may not be trainable, but you can at least learn to use all the courage you have. With practice, you can improve your ability to convey your excitement somewhat. With practice, you will get much better at explaining why something is important.
Leadership is not the same thing as charisma. Charisma is the knack for making people like and support you, in the absence of reasons for doing so. Leadership is the knack for making people like and support the plan, usually with the aid of enthusiastic yet careful explanation of the reasons for doing so. Many people think they can’t become good leaders because they aren’t charismatic. But charisma is over-rated. Many leaders have little charisma, and there is some evidence that charisma is actually detrimental to management ability. In any case, getting people to like you isn’t nearly as important as getting them to enthusiastically do what must be done. Charismatic leadership is indispensable to cults, but it’s optional otherwise, and often not the best option.