One-on-one meetings were all about me, the boss.

Or so I thought.

If I am having a one-on-one meeting and I am the boss, it’s should about me, right? My goals, my deadlines, my pet projects, me, me, me. That’s who I want to talk about. I’m giving you 30 minutes of my time, you better buckle up and listen buddy.

One on One Meeting With Employee

If you haven’t figured out by now, I am wrong a lot. And early on as a leader, it was laughable. When I first started doing one-on-ones it was my second stint as a team leader. Since my first one was an unmitigated disaster and I was all of two years older and wiser and managing a team mostly made up of guys twenty years my senior, I was nervous…and determined to succeed. So I studied. Hard. I also asked some friends for advice. One of the things that came out of one of our talks, though not directly, was the need to do one-on-ones.


“Great,” I thought. I can communicate everything I need in a face-to-face, personal setting. I can tell them everything I need them to know, find out how they are doing on the projects important to me, and make them feel super special for getting thirty minutes of my time to themselves. Wrong!

Here are the first four big mistakes I made when I started doing one-on-ones. Tomorrow’s post will have mistakes 5-8…or 9…maybe even 10. I might have to stop myself after a while, because I really screwed them up at first. The remaining two posts this week will address the solutions I discovered to these problems and the positive results.

My Top 4 One-on-One Meeting Mistakes

  1. It was all about me, me, me. I talked only about what was important to me, asked questions that were only important to me, and made absolutely sure the other person knew I was smart, important, and had inside secrets. Basically it was a 30-minute “stroke my own ego” session.
  2. I kept the conversation to business only. I didn’t get to know my team members at all. Heck, I didn’t even try. I didn’t inquire about their week, their family, their interests, or even how their personal life was going within the confines of work. It was all about projects, tasks, deadlines, and crises at work.
  3. I turned it into a weekly job interview. I’m sure this was very comforting to my team members. I asked a lot of questions about performance, time frames, and numbers in a tone that made them think they were interviewing to keep their job…every single week. Can you even imagine that?
  4. I provided immediate feedback and answers. On the surface this may seem like a good thing. Until you meet the old me. I would immediately dismiss any idea that was presented and almost instinctively say “no” to any request made during the meeting. Not once, early on, did I take the time to digest what they said. Soon, I had shut down all input entirely, which meant all new ideas would come from me. Sadly, I might have said “Mission Accomplished” at the time.

Have you made any of these mistakes in one-on-one meetings or had a leader who did?

This is a part of my series on one-on-one meetings. For all posts in the series and free downloads to help you start and run the meetings go here: One-on-One Meetings for Leaders

10 thoughts on “Me, Me, Me (Or…How Not to Do a One-On-One Meeting, Part One)

  1. Bret Wortman says:

    I really love learning from your mistakes. I tell my kids that’s the definition of wisdom, and I thank you for helping me become wise. 🙂

    I can’t wait to see what the other side of this looks like, because I know it’s going to be powerful and great!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Thanks Bret!

      Yes, the turnaround is great…parts three and four actually talk about how TO do them.

  2. Joshua Rivers says:

    My current job is the first to have “one-to-ones” (their variation), but it is only every 6 months or so. I’ve had two so far, and I never had notice of when mine was going to be. I’m one of the best workers, so my leader has little negative to say. It’s mostly centered on performance – mine and the teams. What is going right? What is going wrong? At least for me, it is mostly about business; but my leader is involved regularly with us, including personal situations.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Joshua, stay tuned…I think (I hope) that you’ll learn how they should be run…or least how I learned they should.

      The first thing was I did them weekly. The rest is coming soon!

      1. Wade Thorson says:

        Any recommendations on the frequency or will that be in a future post? Weekly seems like a little much in my case I am thinking biweekly or monthly maybe.

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        Check tomorrow’s post. I actually answer that very question in the Q&A part. Hint: It’s weekly. I’m not budging. Remember the term leadership economics. But read tomorrow for sure.

  3. Lily Kreitinger says:

    Ouch! Glad those times helped you learn. Thanks for sharing the wisdom. I will definitely keep in mind what not to do with my team.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I’ve got much more to NOT do and some TO do coming!

  4. Wade Thorson says:

    Thanks for this series, I have previously made attempts to do one-to-ones but have since stopped because they were unsucessful for some of these same reasions.

  5. Chance Smith says:

    I have always been interested in their success as they tackle their responsibilities I want to coach them in the best way to get where they need to be and how to get where it will most benefit them. With out a benefit that they are excited about I didn’t have a chance of keeping them.

    I do not be a personal as I should to build the “family” like culture. I am going to swing that in the meetings I have today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.