Conversations Worth Having

What is the highest and best use of your time? I believe that if you are a leader, the answer is building into other people. While there are multiple ways to do this, this post will focus on the one-on-one meeting because it is the most impactful. 

If you get promoted enough, you will get to a position in your organization where it is no longer clear exactly what you should do. While this sounds ludicrous on the surface, the reason that it is so is because you are technically somewhat in charge of a lot, while being fully responsible for little of the day-to-day activities.  

To illustrate what I mean I will share my personal experience. When I became Chief Revenue Officer, my role suddenly oversaw the areas of Sales, Customer Service, Operations, Automation, Engineering, and Maintenance. This encompasses a lot, so it was difficult to prioritize where I should spend my time on any given day. With the guidance of my coach, however, I changed my thinking from “what” I should do, to “whom” I should build into. In short, I began setting up one-on-one meetings with key people in all these areas because that was the best use of my time. 

First, I began meeting regularly with our Director of Manufacturing and the Director of Engineering. Much of the above falls under their areas, so, these meetings happen on a weekly basis. The purpose of the meeting is so they can discuss challenges as well as provide an overview of what they are working on.  This also gives me an opportunity to provide feedback as well as coach and encourage them. 

As I have told them repeatedly, this time is a reserved space for communication, not a performance review. What I mean is that it is a relaxed atmosphere. In fact, while there are usually serious conversations being had, there is also a lot of laughter. We are collectively doing hard work and having fun while doing it. These two leaders also have a great relationship, so the two meetings usually involve some overlap with the appropriate amount of good-natured trash-talking between the three of us. This latter part is more bonding than serious, and quite frankly an hour I look forward to every week.  

Our Executive Vice President is also currently overseeing our Sales team. He is constantly on the go, so our conversations are more ad hoc than scheduled. Having said that, however, we also schedule extended time to make sure that we have alignment. This relationship has been extremely beneficial to me over the years as this person was once my boss. Simply put, I would not be where I am today without his help and support. So, this is another relationship where I never regret investing time. 

Outside of our Directors, and sticking solely to one-on-one meetings, there are two other segments of people that I think leaders should meet with regularly.  

First, leaders should meet with the emerging leaders. For example, I meet monthly with two of our Sales team members to hear what they are working on, clear up any questions they have, and most importantly, get to know them better. This is another time that I absolutely love because they are both driven to become better. They also have great insight about our organization and many fresh, new ideas. They always leave me more energized than I was before our time together. 

Before moving on, a necessary reminder for leaders with around-the-clock production is not to forget emerging leaders on off-hour shifts. For example, I recently began meeting with one of our team members from the midnight to 8 a.m. shift. Not only has this person given some tremendous insight about what is happening on our production floor, but he also has reminded me of the untapped talent we have here while I am typically at home sleeping. 

Finally, the last group I think leaders should intentionally meet with is harder to label. Put bluntly, this group of people may not be present at every organization, although I suspect they are. What I am referring to is the select group of people with positional authority on one hand, but probably not a long list of followers on the other. 

In short, they are isolated. You might even hear others complain about the area they lead, but few are spending time with them. So, if you want to be someone worth following, you need to be the one to invest the time in them. That is what leaders do. 

There are two individuals on our team that probably fit into this category. One is brand new to the company, and a complete extrovert. The other has been here a few years and his job is both important and complicated. To that end, I have heard others questioned what each of them does. So, putting myself in both of these people’s shoes, I thought the wise thing to do would be to reach out and setup a monthly catch-up meeting. In the invite I emphasized that there was no ulterior motive, I just wanted to create a better relationship with them, hear what challenges they were facing, and see how I could help them. 

Both immediately accepted. 

To wrap, here is what I know to be true about leadership: 

Leaders are worth following because they spend their time building in to other human beings. This is not some gimmick. In fact, the fakers can be spotted a mile away. Rather, this is heart-felt. It is genuine. It errs on the side of being human. 

The magic happens when people are encouraged. 

The magic happens when people grow and take on more responsibility. 

The magic happens when the organization gains new ground. 

If leadership is doing things with and through other people, it begins with the process of building into other people. 

Once those seeds are planted, the world should watch out! 

Because the magic will happen.