If you missed part one in the series on one-on-one meetings, check it out here: Me, Me, Me (Or…How Not to Do a One-On-One Meeting, Part One). There I list the first four mistakes leaders make in one-on-one meetings. And by “leaders,” I mean me. These are all mistakes I made when I first started doing one-on-one meetings.

Oh, but I did not make just four mistakes As I thought through it my first few months doing one-on-ones I found that I made ten critical mistakes. Here are mistakes 5-10:

Elephant in the Room Meetings

  1. I didn’t address the elephant in the room (Accountability). I hate conflict like a Bears fan hated the 24/7 coverage of Brett Favre’s 9th Annual “Will he or won’t he play next year” Festival. I sucked at holding people accountable. I missed a wonderful opportunity to address the work-related issues at hand in less threatening (than say, in front of everyone or in my office…more on location in the next two posts). I decided that we should only stick to surface level discussions and gloss over the fact that they were failing in a certain area. That was easier for me. I earned a reputation as a tyrant, but I was a tyrant that didn’t hold people accountable. The result was that I fired people without them even knowing why.
  2. I didn’t address the elephant in the room (Personal Problems). This goes back to not getting to know my team (see point #2). Usually I never knew if a team member was having a personal crisis. Even when I did, though, I did not address it. Not only did this make me seem uncaring (I was) but it kept me from being able to help in any way and get the best performance out of my team…and build incredible loyalty in the process.
  3. one-on-one-downloadI didn’t listen. Notice I didn’t say, “I didn’t listen well.” I didn’t listen, period. This may seem obvious and easy for some. It wasn’t for me. Again, I was more interested in everything I was saying; my objectives, my deadlines, my response to them, that I never heard a word they said. I wasted my time with them. The good news is I did overcome this one quickly. If you have been reading my blog, you know this. In fact, I write about one of the byproducts of listening better here (see point #3). I’ll write more about how to listen better in one-on-ones shortly.
  4. I didn’t take notes. I didn’t even take a pen. I took paper, though, with my agenda for the meeting. I had my notes, my questions, and my complaints, but nothing to record theirs. First, I am sure that looked awesome to my team. Not only was I not listening, I wasn’t even pretending to listen. I mean, I could have at least nodded my head and written down the lyrics to a Beatles song, but no, I flaunt my disinterest in everything they are saying right in their faces. That made it real easy to not follow through on any problems or promises (see point #10 below).
  5. I didn’t ask how I could help them. Joe had a problem with Ken, a vendor. Ken was two weeks late on a project that was due in less than a month. Joe still had to approve Ken’s work and then do his part. Joe’s hands were tied and he was frustrated at the lack of progress. A real leader asks how he can help. I, on the other hand, sympathized with Joe, complained about Ken, probably even told a joke about the last time Ken did this, and moved on to my next topic. I didn’t ask how I could help or charge right into my office to call Ken. I didn’t fight for my team…and that is a sign of horrible leadership. Heck, I wasn’t taking notes, so how could I even remember there was a problem?
  6. I didn’t follow through. Remember that part about me not taking notes? Yeah, that backfired about…oh, 300 times. Sure, let’s evaluate your bonus structure next week. Fail. You need me to call Mike to OK the new ad layout? You got it…or not. Fail. I would guess, conservatively, that of all the promises I made, action items I agreed to, and projects I started, I only followed through on 20% of them. And those were the ones of which someone reminded me.

There you have it. Ten mistakes in all. Ten reasons why my one-on-one meetings sucked and eleven big reasons why my team was so unhappy and performance was abysmal.

Have you made any of these mistakes in one-on-ones or had a leader who did? What were the results?

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

15 thoughts on “Elephants in the Room (Or…How Not to Do a One-On-One Meeting, Part Two)

  1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Man, you were terrible! Haha. Don’t worry, I’m sure there are TONS of people reading and nodding their heads! I’ve never been in a position to do one on ones, but I’ve never had a leader that has done them either, which, of course, is a bigger fail than doing them and making mistakes! Thanks for your transparency and insight!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Yes I was. It was really bad. I look back now and it’s funny but at the time it was painful. It took a full three months…that’s 12 meetings…doing them right before they really started to change. I had a lot of bad to make up for.

  2. Lily Kreitinger says:

    So glad we met here and not at a job interview ;0) I would’ve been scared to death working for you! I have known bosses (notice I didn’t say leaders) who exhibit all these behaviors, thankfully I just have worked for one and a half, because one person redeemed herself after a while. The impact of miscommunication is huge. Very similar to parenting, you need to listen before you lay down the law. Glad you learned from these experiences the hard way and I’m sure your team knows now you are a rockstar!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That’s probably a good thing…for your sake 🙂

  3. Joshua Rivers says:

    List of 10 thing…11 mistakes. Was writing “11” the eleventh mistake? Apparently you should have listened to yourself, took notes about the notes you’re giving, and then followed up! 🙂

    Love these failures. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one that makes mastikes. Now if I could just get myself to publish them online for the world to see.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Oooh good catch Joshua.

      I originally wrote #9 as two, but really it fit better as one. That was a last minute edit. Fail.

      Thanks to you, I have edited it.

      Keep making “mastikes” and keep learning my friend.

      1. Joshua Rivers says:

        I thought that it was on purpose! If I knew it was an accident, I wouldn’t have been so sarcastic (maybe).

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        Had I known that, I would have left it haha!

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      “Mastikes” sounds like the Australian version of “mistakes.” Say it. It’s true.

      1. Joshua Rivers says:

        Ha! That was an accident, but funny!

  4. jryan2445 says:

    My favorite new management show is “Restaurant Impossible”. If you have ever seen it the host, Robert Irvine, does a great job giving people feedback as straight as an arrow and people love him for it. Check it out.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That would require me to get TV. We have one actually but only watch movies…about once a week. haha

      That reminds me to write a post about feedback. I was an epic fail at that until…

      Thanks Jim.

  5. Carol Dublin says:

    I really appreciate your transparency and candor. We’ve all made mistakes as leaders, but to list them all would be a little overwhelming! Looking forward to the rest of the series on how to do them right!

  6. Chance Smith says:

    Interesting you note about taking notes. I just started recording minutes for our leadership meetings. It helps to keep everyone accountable if you know where the team was in the last meeting. We recently added a todo list at the bottom of every meetings notes. At least one task per person. Nobody gets to sit on the couch and call it teamwork.

    Yet, I completely agree that accountability can create elephants and friction if not addressed.

    Thanks again! Loving the series thus far. Moving on to my third helping.

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