Skip to Content

Book Summary: Everyone Deserves a Great Manager – The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team

This book summary offers six practical, field-tested strategies for becoming an effective leader. Take them to heart, and you will become the kind of leader people will look up to instead of complaining about.

Bitching about bosses is a favourite pastime. But what makes a manager great?

Everyone Deserves a Great Manager (2019) provides business leaders with six crucial practices that will transform team members into high performers. Offering practical solutions, it fills in the gap many new managers encounter when they’re promoted without receiving any leadership training.

Book Summary: Everyone Deserves a Great Manager by Scott Jeffrey Miller, with Todd Davis and Victoria Roos Olsson

Who is it for?

  • Newly promoted managers who have no idea what they’re doing
  • Fledgling managers wanting better outcomes
  • Senior managers looking to update their skills


What makes a manager great? In this practical guide, Scott Miller and his co-authors, Todd David and Victoria Roos Olsson – all executives at FranklinCovey – enlighten and educate new managers on the best leadership practices. Miller goes through the mistakes he made on his way to becoming a seasoned manager and presents them as lessons learned. The authors present six easy-to-follow strategies that both novice and experienced managers can use to gain wisdom, efficiency and greater productivity.


  • New managers should learn six pivotal management practices and seasoned managers should review them.
  • Strategy One: Develop a leader’s mentality.
  • Strategy Two: Routinely meet with each individual member of your team.
  • Strategy Three: Organize your team for productivity; position it to achieve top results.
  • Strategy Four: Make sure everyone on your team is receptive to and values feedback.
  • Strategy Five: No matter what happens, your job is to guide each of your team members through events that affect them.
  • Strategy Six: As a leader, you have limited time and energy; use them wisely.

Introduction: Learn how to become the type of manager every employee hopes for.

Congratulations! You’ve just been promoted to your first management role! Excited? You should be! The professional ambitions, workplace deliverables, and daily happiness of a whole team is now your responsibility. Intimidating, right? Well, don’t worry. Your boss reckons you’re up to the challenge. So why should it matter that you’ve never had any leadership training?

Being a manager is a huge responsibility but it’s also an opportunity to help others thrive. Just think – you’re in a position to foster talent, fuel success, and support your team through challenges. If you want your entire team to flourish, you’ll need to develop your leadership skills, fast. These summaries explore six key practices that will transform you into the ideal manager.

In these summaries, you’ll learn

  • why you should encourage your team to make mistakes;
  • one thing you should never say to your employees; and
  • the hard truth about burn-out.

Managers don’t innately know how to lead well.

When the author, Scott Jeffrey Miller, was just 27, he received one of the biggest wake-up calls of his career. After just three months in a sales job at the Covey Leadership Centre, he was promoted to managing a team of client-service coordinators. Miller was delighted, and determined to be the best leader ever. And to him, that meant producing staggeringly impressive outcomes.

So the author announced some new rules. There were to be no personal appointments during work hours, and start and finish times would be monitored. He even asked a coordinator to check voicemails on her honeymoon. What was the result of these new rules? Three weeks later, he was demoted because of his terrible management style. He may have been brilliant at sales, but he wasn’t manager material – yet.

If you’re a first-time manager, you probably started off a similar scenario – as a high performer who’d caught your boss’s eye. One day, you were promoted internally, and suddenly found yourself responsible for a whole team of employees.

If you think about it, this is pretty ludicrous. You wouldn’t get on a plane being flown by an untrained pilot. So, why do employers think you’ll have the skills to be a manager just because you were good at your job?

Unfortunately, this is common practice in the business world. In fact, an article in the Harvard Business Review claimed that the average age of a first-time leader is 30 – but that that person won’t get any leadership training for another twelve years! That’s over a decade of flying in the dark and managing by trial and error.

It’s harrowing to think so many people are being led by managers without any official training. After all, employees’ career growth, skills development, emotional well-being, and mental health are all affected by how their bosses lead. And the responsibilities of the role have a huge impact on you as leader, too. If you want to manage your own stress levels, take care of yourself and your team, and achieve those workplace goals, you need to know what you’re doing.

Whether you’ve been freshly promoted or you’re a senior leader wanting to become more effective, the practices you will learn in the summaries ahead can serve as your foundation. They’ll allow you to help your team thrive – without your job taking its toll on your health.

Focus on your team’s success – not your own.

Carolyn – a colleague of the author’s and a fellow salesperson – was the obvious choice when a leadership position opened up at her workplace. She was a high performer, consistently exceeding her sales targets each quarter. Upper management was excited about her team potentially doing the same.

But they were bitterly disappointed. Carolyn’s team didn’t seem to be developing. And worse, they didn’t trust her. What was going wrong?

Carolyn was always trying to save the day. If it looked like a deal was slipping away during a client meeting, she’d swoop in, put her sales skills into action, and close the deal. She thought this was the right thing to do, because her focus was still on sales targets. Carolyn had forgotten that she wasn’t in sales anymore. Her job now was to support her team.

If you’re a first-time leader, you might think it’s your job to fix all the problems you encounter. But by taking over when things look precarious, you sabotage your team’s opportunities to learn.

Imagine how different things would have been for Carolyn’s team if she’d let them make mistakes. Sure, they would’ve lost a few sales. But afterwards, Carolyn and her team could’ve explored what they could do differently next time. This would’ve helped team members develop their sales skills, improving results over time. And, perhaps most important, it would have shown the team that Carolyn trusted them, building their confidence.

Stepping into the leadership role means changing your definition of results. Your results won’t arise from your own work anymore – like Carolyn’s impressive sales records. They’ll arise from your team’s achievements.

So what does that mean, exactly?

It means that your main focus must be supporting your team. If your team is developing and working well, you’re doing your job properly. Your personal deliverables need to take a backseat, so you can prioritize your team’s growth. After all, what’s the point of having a sales team if the manager is closing all the deals? That’s not going to achieve sustainable results long-term, or increase the overall volume of sales.

Get into the habit of regularly asking yourself what type of manager your team needs in that moment to be the best they can possibly be. Is there something you need to learn so you can support them? Maybe there’s even something you have to unlearn – so that you don’t end up like Carolyn.

Regularly hold 1-on-1 meetings with every member of your team.

Joanna was one of those dream employees: reliable, consistently hitting her targets under budget, and leading a thriving team. She was the perfect combination of low maintenance and high performance – and she did it all remotely, too.

That was why it was such a shock when she handed in her notice. Horrified that the company was losing such an asset, its Chief People Officer, Todd, cleared his calendar to meet with her. He was determined to make her stay any way he could: with a raise, bonuses – whatever it took.

As they chatted, Joanna told Todd why she wanted to move on. It wasn’t the work she was doing or how much she was earning. Joanna didn’t feel like her boss saw her as a person. Their catch-ups felt rushed and perfunctory. And since Joanna worked remotely, it was even more important to feel like her boss cared about her.

No one wants to feel like she’s a cog in the machine. As a leader, it’s your job to make your team members feel seen as people – individuals with professional ambitions, personal goals, and private lives. If you can do this, your employees’ engagement levels will soar, improving their performance.

The best way to achieve this is by holding regular 1-on-1 meetings with your team members. Don’t use 1-on-1s for project status updates. That’ll just make your team feel like part of a production line that you’re monitoring. Instead, use these meetings as a chance to provide individual coaching.

If you’ve established trust with your team, you’ll find that employees will feel comfortable raising all kinds of worries with you during their 1-on-1s. These could be anything from needing help with their presentation skills to dealing with conflicts with colleagues. This will not only give you the chance to support them, it’ll also provide you with insight into other issues that are holding your team back.

The most important thing for you to do during 1-on-1s is listen. Don’t jump into fixing mode, or use the meeting to share your own experiences. Remember: you’re there to help your team grow. Keep your lips sealed until your team member has finished speaking. You can then work together to figure out a plan.

Connect your team with the company’s vision.

How would you feel if your boss told you to do something without explaining why? Enthusiastic, or uninterested and confused? Now, imagine you asked why that task was important. If your boss responded with, “Because I said so,” would you feel any better? Or would you feel like a kid being ordered to eat his vegetables?

When employees don’t understand why the work they do is important, motivation plummets. They might carry out their tasks, but they won’t have a sense of ownership over their work, so its quality will drop – and you’ll waste time picking up the slack.

But if your team members understand how their contributions support the company’s goals, they’ll be infused with purpose. They’re no longer just shuffling papers for the sake of it. They’re shaping a memorable customer experience, or maybe helping a business recover a debt so that jobs won’t be lost. And that’s motivating.

Your team won’t be clear on what your company’s goals are if you don’t know them yourself. If you don’t know, check in with your boss. Ask her what the priorities are, then think about what your team could do to support them.

Once you know where you’re all supposed to be heading, call a meeting and share the company’s goals with your team. Then, as a group, explore different ways you could help achieve those goals. This is how you create deep buy-in. If a team has designed its own goals, its members will be more motivated to put in the hard work. As soon as they have a sense of purpose, they’ll stop just going through the motions and take ownership.

When you’ve finished workshopping, choose three goals, then create briefs for each. Appoint specific team members to work on different aspects of the project, with clear accountabilities, so everyone knows what you expect of them.

Hold brief, regular meetings to check in on action items. This’ll keep your team focused as you work toward your goals. Meetings like this build momentum by creating a sense of progress. They also help everyone keep their eyes on the ball amid the inevitable interruptions and distractions of daily work life. And they’re a great opportunity to reconnect everyone’s contributions with the company’s vision, to keep your team inspired.

Learn how to give feedback effectively.

When the author was a college student, he worked as a waiter at the Sunset Grill in Florida. A whizz at memorizing orders, he’d whirl into the kitchen, make his demands, and have food on customers’ tables in a flash. He finished every day laden with tips. But he made the kitchen staff stressed and his fellow servers resentful.

The author’s boss called him out on his behavior by handing him an index card that said he needed to improve his teamwork. The author was shocked and indignant. If the manager had focused on helping him change his behavior, instead of bluntly pointing out what was wrong, the feedback would’ve been much more effective.

Feedback – the very word can make your blood run cold, whether you’re giving it or receiving it. But if you’re a manager, it’s an inevitable part of your role. And unless you want to sabotage your employees’ confidence and productivity by making a mess of your feedback sessions, you’ll need to become an expert in it. Luckily, giving feedback is a learned skill – one you can develop to help every team member shine.

Many managers think the purpose of feedback is to criticize or fix an employee. But it isn’t. Its purpose is to guide people in developing their skills. There are two different ways you can do this.

The first is by using reinforcing feedback, which highlights outstanding behaviors or contributions. It lets team members know you’ve noticed what they’re doing right, and that you hope they’ll continue to do it. For instance, you might say, “Cameron, the way you’ve reorganized the data capture has simplified a confusing system. Well done!”

Then there’s the more challenging redirecting feedback, which takes a lot of courage and restraint to do well. Sometimes, you’ll need to tell a team member that he’s not meeting your expectations. But instead of seeing this as giving criticism, think of it as believing an employee has the capacity to improve – and that, with your guidance, he will.

Before you meet with your team member, plan out what you’ll say, keeping any judgment out of it. You’ll need to clearly identify the behavior you’ve noticed, and articulate what impact it’s having on the team or project.

When you communicate this to your team member, he’ll react with anything from shame to aggression. Give him time to process these emotions – then work together to create a plan that will address his behavior.

Become an expert at navigating change.

Change. It’s inevitable. Head Office will initiate it, a client will demand it, or an economic shift will force it. And, as leader, you’re there to support your team through whatever’s going on.

Leading a team through change doesn’t just mean helping employees jump through the hoops of training programs or implementing new processes. It means exploring the emotional aspects of change as well. Many leaders ignore how their teams react to change, and that only increases stress and worry. This is the surest path to disaster – and to a huge drop in productivity.

Workplace changes typically go through four phases, whether the change is using new sales software or merging with a competitor. An effective leader will guide her team through each phase as quickly as possible, to reestablish stability and productivity – sooner rather than later.

In the first phase of change, your status quo is shattered. Everything’s puttering along as usual, when – bam! – the carpet’s pulled out from under you. At this stage, no one will know exactly what’s going to happen, so everyone will be anxious. Get your team together immediately and tell them change is on the way. Reassure them that you’ll keep them informed as soon as you’re updated. This will help your people feel supported, even if you’re all in the dark together.

The second phase causes panic. Senior management announces the change and what it means. Anxiety runs rampant and performance deteriorates. As a leader, you need to gather all the information you can about how the change will affect your team, then develop an action plan to move your employees through the change. By asking for their input, you’ll help them regain a reassuring sense of control.

In the third phase, the dust settles, and the team accepts that the change is happening. You roll out your plan and your team starts learning to do things in a new way, like working in a new office space or taking on different responsibilities. During this time, put any non-essential projects on the backburner so people can find their feet.

Once the change has been implemented, you’ve reached phase four – adjusting to a new normal. Even if you don’t think the change was for the best, you’ll have emerged more resilient. You can use the knowledge you’ve gained the next time change knocks on your door.

Manage your energy and time effectively.

Have you ever been happy you were sick? You’ve kept your nose to the grindstone, pulling long hours and canceling weekend plans so you can deliver that project faster, under budget, or with astonishing results. But then your body falls apart. You wind up with the flu, and your only choice is to crawl into bed. “How nice!” you think. You can finally do some binge-watching and take afternoon naps.

Most of us struggle to strike a work-life balance. In fact, business consultancy Gallup found that an astonishing two-thirds of the workforce suffers from professional burnout. That potentially means two out of every three people on your team.

But you don’t have to join this weary majority. By creating a plan that helps you thrive at work, maintain your relationships, and take care of yourself, you’ll strike that elusive balance. Everyone’s plan will look a little different, depending on personal commitments, lifestyles, and interests. But to work, your plan must manage two key areas.

The first is energy. The key to high performance is understanding your body’s natural energy rhythms. When do you feel fully charged and ready to go? When do you hit a slump? Pay attention to the rise and fall of your energy levels and see whether there’s a pattern.

Then, plan your work according to your energy. Use your peak hours for work that needs your full focus, and leave more procedural tasks for times when your batteries naturally run low. That way, you’ll get more done, reducing the risk of late nights in the office.

Next, learn to manage your time. It’s easy for managers to get swamped with tasks. From project deliverables to supporting team members, the day can slip through your fingers. And that’s why it’s crucial that you learn how to say no – no to any tasks that don’t align with your core priorities.

To find out what your core priorities are, ask yourself what kind of leader you want to be. For example, do you want to help everyone on your team advance their careers? Maybe you want to make innovation flourish. Whatever’s at the heart of your leadership, use it to evaluate each request that comes your way. If that request supports your priorities, say yes wholeheartedly. If it doesn’t, say no. Doing this will keep you firmly on the path that leads to what you care about most.


New managers should learn six pivotal management practices and seasoned managers should review them.

Scott Miller admits his management style was all wrong when he was three months into his new job at the Covey Leadership Center, now FranklinCovey. When he started, at age 27, he monitored when his team members arrived at work and when they left. He forbade them to waste even a minute of the work day on personal matters. Miller insisted that one employee review her colleagues’ voicemails during her honeymoon and report anything suspicious back to him. During this period, the author says he was “tyrannical” and “a nightmare.”

Miller eventually outgrew his boorish behavior and became an admirable, effective and accomplished manager. On the way, he learned significant lessons about leadership, including six pivotal management strategies.

“In the ‘olden’ days, first-level leaders had multiple managers above them who had steadily climbed the leadership ladder, accumulating experience along the way.”

Having reduced their management ranks, companies now have fewer experienced managers to teach new managers how to do their jobs. However, you can become an excellent manager by following six practical, field-tested strategies:

Strategy One: Develop a leader’s mentality.

What is your mind-set? Do you understand your thinking processes? Leaders must be aware of how and why they think as they do. Make sure your suppositions are accurate and realistic. If you discover you’re wrong, change your mind quickly. Shifting your beliefs isn’t easy, but you can’t become a great manager by clinging to incorrect information or biased thinking. FranklinCovey’s “See-Do-Get Cycle” offers a mental framework for navigating change and developing the behaviors that accompany the transition to becoming a better leader:

  • See – The way you see things governs your behavior. Your results depend on how you act in response to your perceptions.
  • Do – Pay attention to how you behave; act with deliberation.
  • Get – Identify the important goals you want to reach.

Within this mental framework, the “see” component carries the most weight. To achieve true, long-range results, you must adapt your mind-set to the reality around you. You must see situations clearly and operate accordingly.

“Fundamentally, becoming a leader will require you to let go of some of the skills and mind-sets that made you successful as an individual contributor.”

Most people get promoted to management because they are successful individual producers. This is particularly true for former sales superstars who become sales managers. However, highly competitive performers often have a “‘zero-sum’ mentality – I win; they lose.” This mind-set doesn’t work for managers. When you become a manager, your have to put your team’s results first.

Strategy Two: Routinely meet with each individual member of your team.

Engage your team members through one-on-one meetings where you can inspire each individual. Help them commit to your organization and become more dedicated, cooperative employees. Use one-on-one meetings to construct an energizing corporate culture. This means you must host the right kind of meetings. Don’t let your one-on-ones devolve into status updates: “What did you work on last week? What are you working on this week? Great. Next!”

“Employees often report that their relationship with their direct leader is the most meaningful relationship in their professional lives and determines whether they stay with a company or move on.”

Use weekly one-on-one meetings to coach your employees. Prepare in advance and set aside at least 30 minutes for each meeting. When you set a meeting with an employee, keep your commitment. Try not to cancel or change his or her scheduled day or time. To incorporate this practice into your daily management routine:

  • Use your planning calendar to schedule your one-on-one meetings with team members.
  • Ask effective coaching questions during these meetings.
  • After a few sessions, ask for feedback. Does the person consider the meetings worthwhile? How can you make them better?

Strategy Three: Organize your team for productivity; position it to achieve top results.

Too many managers micromanage. They constantly tell their team members exactly what to do and how they do it. Often, these “do-it-for-them” managers jump in at the first sign of trouble and take over. This stifles initiative and creativity, and undercuts productivity. Learn to delegate. Trust your people to handle their assignments professionally.

“If people are doing their jobs solely because their boss told them to, it sucks engagement right out of a team.”

Don’t set goals for your team. Work with individual team members to plan their own goals and work activities. To incorporate this practice into your daily management routine:

  • Meet with your boss to discuss your pivotal professional goals and how you and your team can achieve them. This will spur a discussion of the goals your manager wants your team to meet and how.
  • Assemble your team members to discuss these goals and how they fit into the overall organization’s targets.
  • Develop a team scoreboard that highlights these goals. Delegate someone to update it regularly.
  • Assign “stretch tasks” and goals to your team members to help them develop their abilities.
  • Celebrate all team victories.

Strategy Four: Make sure everyone on your team is receptive to and values feedback.

Few activities are as valuable as giving and receiving objective feedback. This is why you must provide quality feedback to your team members and solicit feedback from them about your work as a manager and about the company. Make your feedback constructive, “actionable, specific and sometimes tough.” Don’t shirk that last requirement, but avoid harshness.

“Picture yourself 10 years from now. What do you want your team to say about this time in their lives? What results will you and your team have delivered? How would you want your team to describe your leadership?”

Regard feedback as coaching, and use it to boost and help your team members. Never put them down. They need to understand material that might not be clear to them. Emphasize “reinforcing feedback” that recognizes and affirms positive behavior. To incorporate this practice into your daily management routine, tell your team members that in the future, the team will put a premium on giving and receiving feedback. During the next month, solicit significant feedback from someone close to you.

Strategy Five: No matter what happens, your job is to guide each of your team members through events that affect them.

MIT’s Peter Senge explains, “People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.” Change is constant and ubiquitous. It may include promoting or laying off employees, bringing in new leaders, merging with another company, or coping with new software and work requirements.

“If you have the common mind-set of achieving results on your own, it’s important to accept once and for all that your work isn’t just about you anymore; it’s about them.”

Prepare your people for change and guide them through its hazards and opportunities, including corporate change initiatives. No matter what change brings, help your team remain productive. The FranklinCovey Change Model helps managers understand the stages and managerial ramifications of change as they move through its four “zones”:

  1. “Zone of status quo” – This is the business-as-usual zone. For now, change is theoretical.
  2. “Zone of disruption” – People begin to feel stressed as change becomes imminent.
  3. “Zone of adoption” – Due to change, people must do things differently.
  4. “Zone of better performance” – The hope is that change and the way people adapt to it will lead to improved results.

To incorporate this practice into your daily management routine:

  • If you have serious questions about an upcoming change initiative, speak with your manager to gain a better understanding of the logic behind the new plan.
  • Meet often with individual teammates. Update them and reassure them about change issues
  • Create a scoreboard highlighting the achievements of your team members as they work through the change initiative.
  • Celebrate when your team scores an early change-initiative win.

Strategy Six: As a leader, you have limited time and energy; use them wisely.

Gallup reports that almost two-thirds of workers worry about “professional burnout.” Does this include you or your team members?

“Once you start to notice any highs and lows in your energy levels, ask yourself why.”

To boost your energy level and theirs, tap into “five energy drivers.” The amount of energy you have during your waking hours depends on these factors:

  • Sleep – Everyone needs at least seven hours of good sleep nightly. You can’t expect to move magically from 100% activity to immediate, restful sleep. Establish a firm boundary separating your activity time from your sleep time. Instead of staying super busy right up until you turn off the lights, practice yoga and meditation to help calm you for sleep.
  • Relax – If you are under stress, it’s hard to relax. Does your lifestyle reduce or promote stress? What are your coping mechanisms? Binge-watching television or indulging in a “gaming marathon” won’t relax you. These activities drain your energy. Try something restful during the day by engaging in “mental mini-breaks.” Breathe deeply to oxygenate your system; this makes you feel good and builds your energy. Keeping your mind active is a positive way to build energy. Always keep learning.
  • Connect – Do you have meaningful relationships that sustain you at work and home? If not, try to establish new connections. One good way to build connections is to volunteer your time for a worthy cause. This will boost your mental, psychological and emotional health and help you meet new people. Become proactive about the quality of your friends. Seek out people who make you feel good, not bad.
  • Move – Do you move around enough during the day? Do you exercise? Or do you spend most of your time sitting in front of computer screens or curled up on the couch watching TV? Lack of movement is a recipe for an energy and health disaster. Exercising will become easier if you regard it “as a luxury” – something you get the opportunity to do – and not as an unpleasant burden or something you must do. You don’t need to join an expensive gym. If you’re proactive, you can keep moving in little ways all day. Exercise will sustain your energy. Periodically, get up from your chair and move around. Do quick exercises, like squats. Find the aerobic exercise you most enjoy – walking, running, playing tennis, swimming – and pump up your pulse.
  • Eat – Do you eat good, nutritious, wholesome food that sustains you and supplies you with the energy you need? Or are you a junk food junkie? The best foods for fueling your body are whole foods, not processed foods or “quick-hit carbohydrates.” Fruits, vegetables, nuts and berries are best. Take healthy snacks to work, so they’re available when you get hungry. That habit will help you avoid buying a candy bar or a bag of potato chips from the vending machine. If you’re not sure how you measure up on the nutrition scale, track what you eat.

Do you embrace these five energy drivers? A deficit in one area tends to diminish the four other areas. Rate yourself against each factor, and work to improve your grade. Develop a robust energy level that will hold steady morning, afternoon and evening. Remember, when you’re a team leader, your energy level isn’t the only one that counts; the energy levels of your individual team members are also important. Be a positive role model of healthy practices for your team members. To bring “positive energy” to your team meetings as part of your daily management routine, take these steps:

  • Conduct your own “personal energy audit.”
  • Determine your daily energy requirements. Plan your schedule accordingly.
  • Plan your weekly activities.
  • Devote five to 10 minutes each day to refining your activity plans.
  • Boost the energy levels of your meetings.

Don’t try to take on all six practices immediately. Work on them little-by-little. With a concerted, focused and determined effort, you will eventually master each one and become the great manager every employee wants as a leader.

Final Summary

The key message in these summaries:

Your actions as manager will have a huge impact on your team’s productivity – not to mention its members’ happiness and health. When you’re a new leader, it’s easy to get swept up in your own ambitions. But if you want to be an effective leader – one who can help employees reach their full potential – you need to let go of thoughts about your personal success. To be an effective leader, you must focus on supporting your team. That’s the true purpose of a manager – and the only way to do your job well.

Actionable advice: Praise team members in a way that speaks to them.

When it comes to being praised, everyone has personal preferences. Some employees will love it if you applaud them during a staff meeting. Others will be mortified by this type of public attention, preferring you to say thank you during a 1-on-1. Make it your mission to discover how and when you should deliver your praise to each individual on your team. That way, you can tailor your approach, and make sure your words of gratitude and encouragement hit the right note every time.

About the author

Scott Miller, the executive vice president of thought leadership at FranklinCovey, hosts On Leadership With Scott Miller, a weekly webcast, podcast and newsletter. Todd Davis, FranklinCovey’s chief people officer, has more than 30 years of experience in human resources, talent development, recruiting, sales and marketing. Victoria Roos Olsson is a senior leadership consultant for FranklinCovey.

Scott Jeffrey Miller is the executive vice president of thought leadership at FranklinCovey, a company that develops business modeling to foster success. A leadership expert, Jeffrey Miller hosts Great Life, Great Career with Scott Miller, a weekly radio program, as well as the weekly podcast On Leadership with Scott Miller.

Todd Davis is the author of the best seller Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work. Chief People Officer at FranklinCovey, he fosters the professional development of employees in 160 different countries.

Victoria Roos Olsson is a senior leadership consultant at FranklinCovey, and was on the development team for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A certified yoga teacher and running coach, she hosts her own podcast, Roos&Shine, with her sister.


Management, Leadership, Business and Organizational Learning, Business Management, Leadership and Motivation, Self Help, Personal Development

Table of Contents

Develop a leader’s mindset

Hold regular 1-on-1s

Set up your team to get results

Create a culture of feedback

Lead your team through change

Manage your time and energy.


Learn how to become a great manager in this Wall Street Journal bestseller from the leadership experts at FranklinCovey.

The essential guide when you make the challenging yet rewarding leap to manager. Based on nearly a decade of research on what makes managers successful, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager includes field-tested tips, techniques, and the top advice from hundreds of thousands of managers all over the world.

Organized by the four main roles every manager fills, this must-read guide focuses on how to lead yourself, people, teams, and change to success. No matter what your current problem or time constraint, pick up a helpful tip in ten minutes or glean an entire skillset by developing people skills and clarity through straightforward advice.

Dive into common managerial tasks like one-on-ones, giving feedback, delegating, hiring, building team culture, and leading remote teams, with useful worksheets and a list of questions for your next interview. An approachable, engaging style using real-world stories, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager provides the blueprint for becoming the great manager every team deserves.


From the organizational experts at FranklinCovey, an essential guide to becoming the great manager every team deserves.

A practical must-read, FranklinCovey’s Everyone Deserves a Great Manager is the essential guide for the millions of people all over the world making the challenging and rewarding leap to manager. Based on nearly a decade of research on what makes managers successful—and includes new ways of thinking, tips and techniques—this volume has been field-tested with hundreds of thousands of managers all over the world.

Organized under four main roles every manager is expected to fill, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager focuses on how to lead yourself, people, teams, and change. Readers can start anywhere and go everywhere with this guide—depending on their current problem or time constraint. They can pick up a helpful tip in ten minutes or glean an entire skillset with deeper reading. The goal is for the busy manager to know what to do and how to do it without interrupting their regular workflow.

Each role highlights the current, authentic problems managers face and briefly explores the limiting mindsets or common mistakes that led to those problems. With skill-based chapters that cover managerial skills like one-on-ones, giving feedback, delegating, hiring, building team culture, and leading remote teams, the book also includes more than thirty unique tools, such as a prep worksheets and a list of behavioral questions for your next interview. An approachable, engaging style using real-world stories, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager provides the blueprint for becoming the great manager every team deserves.


“Congratulations to Scott Miller, Todd Davis, and Victoria Roos Olsson for the abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel they provide in this volume.” – Blogging on Business

DISCOVER THE PROVEN BEST PRACTICES TO DEVELOP YOUR PEOPLEINTO A HIGH-PERFORMING TEAM.A practical must-read, FranklinCovey’s Everyone Deserves a Great Manager is the essential guide for the millions of people making the challenging and rewarding leap to becoming a manager. Based on decades of research– including new ways of thinking, tips, and techniques–these six practices have been field-tested with leaders all over the world.

Video and Podcast

Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview


Want a guaranteed conversation starter? Ask someone if they’ve ever had a bad manager. And then brace yourself, because almost all of us know what it’s like to work for a soul-crushing, morale-killing, please-don’t-make-me-go-to-work kind of manager.

But if we’re fortunate, we’ve also worked with a great manager—one who cared about us, believed in us, and helped us do our best work.

Legendary Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen believes management is one of the most meaningful roles in the world. In How Will You Measure Your Life? he writes, “If you want to help other people, be a manager. If done well, management is among the most noble of professions. You are in a position where you have eight or ten hours every day from every person who works for you. You have the opportunity to frame each person’s work so that, at the end of every day, your employees will go home… living a life filled with motivators.”

And the data proves it. According to Gallup, “Managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units.”I

Being a great manager is one of the most influential roles—and one of the hardest. When I led a team for the first time, I struggled to learn on the job. What I wouldn’t have given for a Wikipedia for managers, or even better, a WebMD for my leadership aches and pains. It didn’t exist; so my cofounder and I set out to create one in a drafty San Francisco basement eight years ago.

The resulting company, Jhana, was founded on the idea that everyone deserves a great; manager. (While there are impassioned arguments around the terms “leader” and “manager,” the authors and I will use them interchangeably in this book for ease of reading.) Jhana now serves as an online learning resource that provides bite-size training for leaders, and our research confirmed how universally hard it was to transition into leadership, how often new managers weren’t set up for success, and how little direction they received from their bosses. Our team of PhDs, researchers, writers, and technologists dove into the academic research and built a panel of managers to validate or refute their findings in the real world. What emerged was some of the best, most practical solutions for the challenges all managers face: delegating, leading people, setting the right goals, supporting people, hiring, firing, and motivating.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only new manager who could use the help, because Jhana took off. Managers used our practical solutions in tech companies, professional services, financial services, hospitals, manufacturing, schools, universities, and governments. To increase our impact, we joined up with FranklinCovey, one of the most respected leadership-development companies in the world. Beginning with its cofounder, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, FranklinCovey has nearly four decades of experience around these fundamental leadership issues:

How could we help people make one of the most difficult transitions of their careers, from individual contributor to manager, giving them the confidence to overcome their self-doubt?

How could we help managers fulfill their potential and continue to learn and develop over time?

How could we help them manage the often crushing stress that comes with the job?

With FranklinCovey’s principle-based leadership legacy and Jhana’s innovative Silicon Valley approach, we built a leadership solution that combined the best of both worlds: the 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team, used by hundreds of thousands of managers in countries all over the world.

Although created primarily for managers leading teams of individual contributors, the practices in this book apply to leaders at any level:

If you’re a new manager: You’ll uncover the proven best practices to lead and develop your people into a high-performing team.

If you’re an experienced manager: Focus on the practices that fill the gaps in your management training, and check out the tools for your most critical interactions such as conducting 1-on-1s, setting goals, and leading through change.

If you’re a leader of leaders: You’ll find practical ways to sharpen your managerial skills. This book can also serve as a guide to mentor new managers who report to you.

If you’re a human resource, learning and development, or organizational development professional: Use this book to coach experienced managers and develop new/emerging leaders.

If you’re a C-level executive: Use this book to model the practices so they manifest on the front line. If you’re not using these practices, your managers probably won’t either.

Along with Scott, Todd, and Victoria, I have found leadership to be especially challenging but also very rewarding. But if you’re not there yet, the practices in this book will help you get there. Enjoy this journey that will inspire managers at any level to make an impact with their teams and leave a lasting legacy.

—Rob Cahill

Cofounder and CEO, Jhana

Vice President, FranklinCovey

I. Gallup, Inc. (n.d.). Managers Account for 70% of Variance in Employee Engagement. Retrieved from


I hate powdered sugar.

It all started when I was twenty-seven years old, and three months into my new career with the Covey Leadership Center (what would become FranklinCovey) as a frontline salesperson for K–12 schools. After an entire life in Florida, including four years with the Walt Disney Company, I was excited about my new start in Utah, with its wide-open career opportunities and delightful absence of parking-lot alligators. Imagine my surprise when the vice president asked if I would take on the additional role of managing a team of client-service coordinators.

All of the people on the team had been with the company longer than me. Surveying my new team, I rendered my judgment: they were quite capable, but in need of motivation, accountability, and a young but promising leader who could raise the bar on performance.

I buckled down and got to the job at hand. The vice president was going to be thrilled with the outcomes I was able to produce. My team would revere my inspiring style and expertise. I was going to be so effective that it would be only a matter of time before I landed another promotion, a raise, and an even larger team to lead toward greatness.

That’s not quite what happened.

Trying to increase productivity and our results, I suddenly found myself monitoring arrival and departure times. I banned personal appointments during work hours. I even asked a coordinator to respond to voicemails and report any issues to me while she was out of the office—on her honeymoon.

She thought I was joking.

I was not.

(To her credit, she flat-out refused. We are good friends to this day, twenty-two years later.)

So yes, I was quite effective—at destroying morale, people’s self-esteem, and any shred of pride they had in their work. I was tyrannical. I was a nightmare. Fine: I was a total jackass. But I genuinely thought my brand of swagger would bring everyone in line and inspire them to new levels of engagement.

Which brings us to the powdered sugar. One morning during my reign of terror, I was reading the paper at a local diner before work while (you guessed it) eating a waffle with powdered sugar on top, when my phone rang. It was the vice president. Time for my next promotion!

Instead, he began with, “You know, I’ve been thinking…” and ended three minutes later with me gently—but definitely—relieved from my new leadership position and moved back into the role of a frontline salesperson.

I had been, in fact, un-promoted. After three weeks.

I set my fork down, feeling sick to my stomach, and that was the end of my first leadership role and my love of powdered sugar.

Fortunately, my employer, FranklinCovey, one of the world’s largest leadership-development organizations, offered me a second chance—many second chances. Through coaching and painful self-reflection, I learned to lead in a way that accomplished business results while developing my team.

After four years as a successful individual producer, I was re-extended the opportunity to lead, this time for a group of fifteen experienced salespeople in our higher-education division. By this time, I knew how to hold accountability meetings, review pipelines, forecast, understand what was a real sales opportunity and what wasn’t. I was good at managing sales… which is very different from managing people.

That crucial transition didn’t happen until I was promoted to general manager of our Midwestern region. It required a whole different level of skill, a more sophisticated strategy, more compassion, and tough calls. I had to interview and hire dozens of people… and also fire a few when their contributions fell short. I had to learn to develop high performers, motivate low performers, and have difficult conversations. I had to make decisions with six-figure consequences weekly.

It was through this role that I learned to become the manager my team deserved. To guide forty people with lofty career dreams, 401(k) s, mortgages, and families who depended on them, I had to bring a completely new level of maturity, wisdom, and judgment. I also had to earn my leadership position—it didn’t automatically come with the title. I had to behave my way to credibility.

Around this time, my mentor told me, “Scott, ten years from now, no one will remember if you met your second-quarter EBITDA or increased your margin by 4 percent. Of course, you must deliver business results to earn the right to have and keep your leadership role, but your legacy will be the lives you influence and the careers you grow.” I’d seen my mentor achieve stellar business results, but more importantly, I saw him model, coach, and instill confidence in others, changing lives for the better in the process. I began trying to do the same.

From living through this transition personally—and painfully—I became determined to help others through it. My coauthors, Todd and Victoria, share this passion and bring their own leadership challenges and experiences to this book. Ultimately, we realized that a guide with real people’s experiences, combined with FranklinCovey’s research, could help a lot of managers.

We’ve collected everything we’ve learned here to teach you, support you, and help you lead with confidence: insights into how and why great leaders think the way they do; nuts-and-bolts best practices for confronting and overcoming your most common leadership difficulties; tools and resources, including checklists, stories, and examples. Everyone Deserves a Great Manager delivers the guidance you hoped for when you were promoted but perhaps didn’t receive: the support, understanding, strategies, and tactics to develop as a leader and turn your people into an engaged, high-performing team.


These pages will benefit leaders at all levels, but first-level leaders (people who lead teams of individual contributors who themselves have no direct reports) will find this book especially valuable.

First-level leaders have never been more relevant. Executive adviser and bestselling author Ram Charan observes that the rapid digitization of information has eliminated massive layers of leadership in organizations. Work is collapsing down, not up. Which means that the vast majority of people are reporting to first-level leaders, who now assume unprecedented influence and responsibility.

For example, Harvard Business Review writes, “About 20% of the world’s websites are now on the WordPress platform—making it one of the most important internet companies. And yet, Automattic, the firm behind WordPress, only employs a couple hundred people, who all work remotely, with a highly autonomous flat management structure.”I Decades ago, the company would have had an organizational chart like a London Underground map; now a few developers on a Slack channel keep one-fifth of the web going.

In the “olden” days, first-level leaders had multiple managers above them who had steadily climbed the leadership ladder, accumulating experience along the way. Junior managers could draw on their expertise for mentorship and feedback. But today, most of those layers are gone, often leaving first-level leaders without sufficient resources or support.

In this role, you’re supposed to know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members, appear to have all the answers, and transition from focusing on your own results to achieving the team’s results. Overnight. You have to make sound decisions under ambiguous conditions, hold people accountable, and hit goals you may have had nothing to do with setting.

Despite being the new performance linchpin in your organization, you’re often the least experienced and least trained. You’re learning by trial and error because you have no other choice. Researchers in the Harvard Business Review found that, on average, people take on their first leadership role at age thirty—but don’t receive their first leadership training until they’re forty-two. As the researchers said, “They’re operating within the company untrained, on average, for over a decade.”II Imagine a physician, a pilot, or an engineer operating untrained for a decade—it’s unfathomable. Why would we tolerate a lower standard for the linchpins of our organizations?

Leadership vs. Management

You may have noticed already that we use the terms “leader” and “manager” fairly interchangeably throughout this book. We did this consciously and aren’t trying to further reinforce the divide between the two by elevating one over the other. What we do know is that some leaders need to be better managers, and some managers need to be better leaders. We’ll leave philosophical definitions to some academic tome, so don’t get hung up when we use one term or the other.

FranklinCovey has spent nearly four decades researching leadership, and we’ve found that first-level leaders are increasingly frustrated by the lack of mentoring, overburdened by impossible demands on their time, and worried about conducting difficult conversations. And if they don’t have a path forward, the odds are high that they’re going to abandon leadership—and maybe their employer too.

We know your role is difficult, but it is worth doing—and doing well—because you can truly improve the lives and careers of your team members. That’s not hyperbole. Work stress can manifest as physical, mental, and emotional challenges for everyone, including you. As a leader, you will have an impact (for better or worse) on your team’s ability to successfully overcome those challenges. We are committed to helping you become the manager both you and your team deserve.


To give you the confidence and competence you need to meet the inevitable challenges of managing, FranklinCovey has shrunk the bewildering world of first-level leadership down to the six most critical practices for leading a team:

Practice 1: Develop a Leader’s Mindset

Practice 2: Hold Regular 1-on-1s

Practice 3: Set Up Your Team to Get Results

Practice 4: Create a Culture of Feedback

Practice 5: Lead Your Team Through Change

Practice 6: Manage Your Time and Energy

These practices have been field-tested by thousands of actual leaders working with real teams. This content expands upon FranklinCovey’s leadership solution The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team, now adopted by thousands of companies, governments, nonprofits, school systems, and universities around the world.

Here’s why you’ll find this book valuable:

You’ll learn how to make the biggest career transition of your life. These practices will help you make the mental leap to leadership, without sacrificing the qualities that made you a high-performing individual contributor (often these two are at odds!).

You can apply the practices immediately. Whether you’re trying to lead a team of six or sixty, you need tools you can put to work today. Each practice is packed with step-by-step instructions you can put into action right now.

You’ll get up to speed quickly. We’ve distilled decades of research, hundreds of leader interviews, and tens of thousands of assessments down to the practices that yield the greatest results for first-level leaders.

More Experienced Leaders Can Use the 6 Practices Too

While we wrote this book for first-level leaders, mid- and senior-level leaders will also find a great deal of value in it. These are skills every leader needs to draw on and frequently revisit. Even if you’re managing five hundred people, you know not to get complacent about the fundamentals. For more seasoned managers, this book is part refresher, part midcourse correction, and a collection of enduring principles that you can use to coach the first-level leaders who report to you.

Read this book cover to cover and keep it on your desk when you need specific information or tools. The book’s structure is made for immersive study or on-demand enlightenment.

Your coaches over the following pages will be Todd Davis, Victoria Roos Olsson, and me, Scott Miller. As FranklinCovey’s chief people officer, Todd brings expertise in talent development, building winning cultures, and unleashing the potential of your most precious asset: how your people collaborate. Todd will serve as your mentor on developing effective work relationships, as he has for hundreds of others throughout his career and in his recent bestseller Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work.

* * *

Do I want to be a great leader… or do I want my team to be led by a great leader?

One question is about me, and one is about them.

If I want to be a great leader, I might unknowingly see leadership through my lens—what builds my brand, my credibility, my career. If I shift my focus to wanting my team to have a great leader, I don’t care about getting the credit. I want my team to reach its full potential, whether anybody knows I did that or not.

When my father passed away, we discovered that, over his lifetime, he’d anonymously helped dozens of people. He served with the goal of lifting others, not seeking credit for himself. The best leaders do the same.

All of us want to be recognized, at least a little. But focusing on others can be the most rewarding part of our career.


* * *

Victoria, a Swedish senior leadership consultant for FranklinCovey, brings an international perspective and a true practitioner’s approach. You’ll benefit from her two decades of experience developing leaders—and leading many teams herself—in large organizations around the world, from Beijing to Dubai to Brussels. As a certified yoga instructor, Victoria will also help you bring the “whole person” into your leadership approach.

* * *

I will always remember when my friend Sofia called me on a Sunday evening with exciting news: she’d been promoted into her very first leadership role. Elated and a little nervous, she asked me to share everything I knew about being a great leader… in a half hour.

She was starting her new assignment the following day because it had been a quick, internal promotion. I shared as much as I could that Sunday evening, but any new leader needs more than a few minutes to make the biggest leap of their career.

This situation is all too common. There are a lot of Sofias out there—first-level leaders both excited and overwhelmed by their new responsibilities, thrown into their new role with just a “congratulations.” This book is for all of you.


* * *

And I bring two decades of leadership mistakes, lessons learned, and successes, from my first un-promotion to finding my footing as a sales leader, general manager, executive vice president, and chief marketing officer. Like my two coauthors, I’ve intentionally chosen to be both candid and vulnerable so you can benefit from our collective leadership experiences. Hopefully, our transparency will give you a path around these common pitfalls. We pair these personal insights with learnings beyond FranklinCovey, including other respected leadership experts.

For clarity, I’ll serve as your primary narrator, with the exception of Practice 6, where Victoria will bring her deep expertise. Please note that to honor confidences, we have changed some names and minor details in our stories.

Employees often report that their relationship with their direct leader is the most meaningful relationship in their professional lives, and determines whether they stay with a company or move on. If you become a great leader using the insights and skills in this book, you’ll find greater job satisfaction, opportunities for advancement, and the chance to affect the lives of others for the better. You’ll become the manager you and your team deserve.

Access More Tools Online

Visit for more coaching from the authors. Check in as you read this book and whenever you need a refresher.

I. Kastelle, T. (2019, March 01). “Hierarchy Is Overrated.” Retrieved from

II. Zenger, J. (2014, August 07). “We Wait Too Long to Train Our Leaders.” Retrieved from



I was raised in a stable middle-class family in central Florida. My brother and I rode our bikes to school, went to church on Sundays, and were tucked in bed by 7:30 p.m. sharp. We led a routine, predictable life, and I grew up thinking everyone lived this way. I was also taught to believe some specific things about life, most memorably that certain people always tell the truth and are always right: parents, police, and priests.


Do parents always tell the truth? Nope. Do police officers? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Are all priests trustworthy? Horrifyingly not.

This was a limited paradigm, or mindset. Paradigms are the lenses through which we view the world, based on how we were raised, indoctrinated, and trained to see everything in front of us. We all wear these metaphorical pairs of glasses, and they vary in accuracy. They might be the right prescription or slightly off. In some cases, you might have a metaphorical cataract.

Mostly our mindsets are unconscious or subconscious. None of us (hopefully) set out in the morning to have biases or prejudices, but every one of us has them deeply ingrained in us from our experiences while we were raised. We often aren’t even aware of them or their ongoing impact—negative and positive.

With the “parents, police, and priests” paradigm, I fortunately didn’t have to put it to the test. I was generally surrounded by good examples of all three, but if I hadn’t been so lucky, this paradigm could have caused serious damage. As it was, I didn’t realize that parents were actually real people with flaws and weaknesses until my mid-twenties.

And it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I understood that leaders are people too—that they don’t make all the right decisions or have all the right answers.

Your job as a leader is to continually assess your paradigms for accuracy and ensure they reflect reality. So ask yourself what you believe about leadership, your team, and yourself. Maybe you believe that the colleagues who think like you are “high potentials” and those who challenge you aren’t. Perhaps you believe you’re not really leadership material and someday everyone will find out.


Assess Your Paradigms

List the members of your team. Write down your beliefs about each of them. Step back and ask, “What has happened that’s made me think she’s always late, he’s sloppy, he’s a know-it-all, or she’s a genius?”

Are you giving them a fair shake? How much of your own fear, insecurity, jealousies, last interaction, or series of very valid encounters makes your assessment of them true or incomplete?

Now do the same for your paradigms about yourself. Do you have any strongly held beliefs that, if challenged or corrected, could increase your potential? Ask yourself, “Is this belief true? If not, how can I change it?”

Name:___________________________  Beliefs:___________________________

Name:___________________________  Beliefs:___________________________

Name:___________________________  Beliefs:___________________________



I once went skiing with a good friend at Snowbird, a popular resort in Utah. Although she’d never skied down anything steeper than a bunny slope, I somehow convinced her that she could handle the Black Diamond run. “Come on, come on, come on!” I urged her. “No problem. Black Diamond! Woo-hoo!” And after luring her to the top, I gave her an encouraging shove.

She was taken down on a stretcher.

Horrified, I recently realized that I do this in my leadership role too. (And don’t worry, my friend wasn’t seriously injured and bounced back, no worse for the wear, although she’s never skied again, at least with me.) While many leaders lack confidence in their people and tamp them down, I’m the opposite: I believe anyone can do anything if I just provide enough encouragement. I paint the vision and create excitement—whatever it takes to inspire them to my degree of confidence in them. My intention is to help people achieve their full potential… and who cares if they agree?

This paradigm sometimes works. But sometimes I accidentally lure people into terrible Black Diamond experiences instead. “No, you actually can do this. It’s easy. It’s only a speech to two thousand people. You’ll do just fine.”

When I’m putting people into jobs, assigning them to new territories or countries, putting them on stages in front of two thousand people, and contracting high-paying consulting gigs for them, the stakes are high. At worst, this paradigm can destroy people’s confidences, reputations, and even careers, if we’re not aligned.

I often need to rethink my approach and remember something we teach at FranklinCovey: the See-Do-Get Cycle. It’s the root of real behavior change. When you challenge your mindset (tough work, by the way) you can make lasting changes to your actions and your results.

To best understand this cycle, let’s start with our desired result, the “Get” part of the cycle. We all have different outcomes we’re trying to achieve: improved health, meaningful relationships, financial stability, influence in our communities and careers—as well as short-term results we want from our day, meeting, or project.

What drives those results (Get) are our behaviors, the “Do” in this cycle. It’s how we act. If we want to complete a report by the deadline, then we have to behave in a certain way throughout the day: check with the finance department about last quarter’s profit and loss statement, resist distractions, etc. If we want to build rapport with our co-workers, we can invite them out to lunch. If we want to nail our presentation, we practice it over and over. You get the point.

Most people see that behavior and results are interconnected: what we do drives what we get. That is not an epiphany.

Here’s what I think most people don’t appreciate: the first crucial step, “See.” This means that beyond our behavior, our results are affected by our mindset.

How we see things affects our behavior, which in turn affects our results.

Paradigm. Behavior. Result.

See. Do. Get.

If you want to get short-term results, change your behavior. You’ll stop smoking—until a tense day at work. You’ll wake up at 5 a.m. through sheer willpower—once, then hit snooze the rest of the week. You’ll stop swearing—until you get cut off in traffic. Behavior changes will only net you a temporary fix.

As Dr. Stephen R. Covey taught, if you want to fundamentally change your results, if you want long-term sustainable impact, you have to challenge your mindset.

Having identified my “Black Diamond” paradigm, I wasn’t happy with it. Sometimes it works, but not often enough—and my friend hanging up her skis made me rethink it. I reevaluated my paradigm about setting people up for success (See). Instead of relying on woo-hoos and enthusiasm, I help my team members develop their skills… after giving them a chance to opt out of my grand plans (Do). As a result, I’ve learned to grow people who are actually willing and ready (Get), and fortunately decreased the number of people I push down ski slopes.

* * *

Imagine a leader who has been assigned an important project to manage. If she closes this project successfully, it will be a great milestone in her career and might even lead to a coveted promotion.

But when she gets the list of people assigned to work on the project, the first thing that goes through her mind is, “Oh no, not those ten… they never put in any work and don’t get anything right.”

With this paradigm, will this leader sit down and listen to her team? Will she consider their input and viewpoints? Will she delegate important tasks? Doubtful. And when she does delegate simple, fail-proof things, she will probably double-check their work many times, also known as micromanaging.

Now imagine you are one of the people assigned to this team. The leader isn’t listening to you or considering your ideas. She corrects everything you do. How would it make you feel? Would you prioritize this unpleasant project over your many other responsibilities? Would you bring your best talents, energy, and efforts to this project? Probably not.

Eventually, this leader will prove herself right. The way she saw the team members (paradigm) affected their behavior, which generated the result that nobody put in extra effort. Her initial impression was confirmed. She was right. Or was she?


* * *


In tennis, what wins on grass and clay doesn’t always translate to asphalt. When you win Wimbledon, you don’t expect your coach’s first conversation to be, “Congratulations, you won on grass! But now it’s going to take a whole different approach to win on asphalt.” You expect to be showered with accolades; instead you get an ego enema. The world of professional tennis is fraught with experts who were unable to transfer their superior play from one surface to another.

Likewise, I don’t imagine that most high-performing, driven people promoted into leadership realize that they must now fundamentally change their approach. But many of the paradigms that got you promoted won’t make you successful as a leader. You may be aware of Gallup’s bestselling book Now, Discover Your Strengths. A subsequent book, Discover Your Sales Strengths, highlighted the conundrum high-producing salespeople face when they are “rewarded” with a promotion to become a sales leader. The strengths they perfected as an individual salesperson often included a strong sense of competition, a need for individual recognition and fame, and sometimes a zero-sum-game mentality—I win; they lose. Great for winning on the sales scoreboard, not so great for nurturing, coaching, and leading your team (as in, those people who might have been your peers yesterday).


Assess Your Leadership Paradigms

Identify the paradigms that made you successful as an individual contributor. For example:

My own work is my number-one priority.

I should always be prepared with the right answer.

My validation comes from recognition of my performance.

Determine which of them will and won’t work in your leadership role.

Talk to other successful leaders about the mindsets they had to leave behind when they transitioned from individual contributor to leader. What new beliefs did they adopt that have helped them?


Across most professions, this perilous chasm exists: teacher to principal, server to restaurant manager, physician to chief of medicine. Or as the bestselling book by Marshall Goldsmith states, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Fundamentally, becoming a leader will require you to let go of some of the skills and mindsets that made you successful as an individual contributor.

In the best of worlds, your manager would sit you down, talk about your strengths and why you were promoted, then explain what you’re going to need to do differently going forward. If you don’t receive that feedback, you have this book. We’ll introduce each of the practices with a key mindset shift leaders must make to accomplish results. Circle which one tends to describe you at this point in time. (Don’t know? Ask your team—they’ll definitely have an opinion.)




1. Develop a Leader’s Mindset

I achieve results on my own.

I achieve results with and through others.

2. Hold Regular 1-on-1s

I hold 1-on-1s to monitor people’s progress.

I hold regular 1-on-1s to help people get—and stay—engaged.

3. Set Up Your Team to Get Results

I tell team members what to do and how to do it.

I help team members get clear about the “why” behind the “what” and support them in the “how.”

4. Create a Culture of Feedback

I give feedback so I can fix people’s problems.

I give and seek feedback to elevate the entire team.

5. Lead Your Team Through Change

I control and contain change for my team.

I champion change with my team.

6. Manage Your Time and Energy

I am too busy to take time for myself.

I must manage my time and energy to be an effective leader.


I once worked with a record-setting salesperson, Carolyn. When a sales-manager position opened up, it was a no-brainer to promote her. Everybody assumed she would seamlessly transition from hitting—and often exceeding—her number quarter after quarter to helping her new team do the same.

That didn’t happen. Instead, if her salespeople faltered during a client meeting, Carolyn would swoop in and use her extraordinary sales skills to close the deal. She thought she was saving the day. She was, but only that day. Her team didn’t develop their own selling skills because Carolyn wouldn’t let them make mistakes and recover from them. This is a common new-manager mistake: relying on your individual contributor skills—and doing everything yourself as soon as there is a problem—rather than helping your team solve the problem and learn. In the process, you lose your new team’s trust. Carolyn was so focused on helping get the sale, what she knew she was good at and could do, that she lost sight of a critical reality: her new role was no longer about her hitting the number—it was to have her team hit the number.



I achieve results on my own.

I achieve results with and through others.


Hold a Funeral for Your Old Job

If you derive a lot of satisfaction and validation from your previous accomplishments (and there’s no shame in that!), you might need to say goodbye to them. Box up your trophies, awards, and certificates. If you’re feeling really ambitious, take them to a safe spot and light them on fire—a sort of Burning Man(ager).


When you become a leader, your definition of results needs to change. You need to see them differently. When you were an individual contributor, your results were the work you did. But now you’re a first-level leader, so you own the results of everybody on your team. Your first job is not to get results alone, but with and through others. You’re still responsible for your personal deliverables, but they take a back seat to ensuring that your direct reports hit theirs, while the people on your team grow, learn, and even become leaders themselves. In other words: your people are your results.

You might be thinking, “I didn’t even hire these people!” But part of your job is to discern the talent, coachability, and potential of each member of your team, whether you hired or inherited them. You have to learn who can—or can’t—rise to the new standard you’re requiring. But before you consider dismissing an employee, remember that they might just need a leader who can challenge and inspire them to a new level of contribution. That leader might be you.

What if Carolyn didn’t save the day during sales meetings? Yes, her team would make mistakes. Some deals might not close. But her team would learn from those errors, especially if she followed up with feedback and coaching, and they would probably get better results in the future. Just as important, she would show that she trusted her team, rather than treat them like rookies who needed hand-holding. The result would be savvier, more skilled, and confident salespeople who collectively met their numbers (and weren’t reliant on one person to save the day every time).

We recognize that some industries and settings have less or no tolerance for mistakes, due to safety, quality, and accuracy. In this case, leaders should work side by side with their team members for close accountability and modeling, without doing their job for them or suffocating them.

* * *

In my book Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work, I share an example of a leader who modeled the effective mindset of achieving results with and through others.

A hospitality executive oversaw a sprawling property with almost four thousand employees, which he said often felt more like running a city than a hotel. We’d partnered with them on leadership development, and he invited our executive team to meet his department heads to share their results: housekeeping, food and beverage, engineering, sales, catering, and more. Before they came in, he shared his vision for each of them, saying something like:

“I’ve worked here for more than twenty years and had a phenomenal run. I’ve been lucky to earn our President’s Club Award many times. But now I have all the crystal trophies I could ever need. I want my team to earn President’s Club and more, and then I want them to pass that same vision on to the people they lead. That’s what I want my legacy to be.”

And it wasn’t just talk. When the department managers arrived, they clearly knew their leader wanted them to shine. It was one of the most productive and inspiring meetings I’d ever attended, and it changed my paradigm about how I lift my own team.


* * *

If you have the common mindset of achieving results on your own, it’s important to accept once and for all that your work isn’t just about you anymore; it’s about them. It’s time to let go of your past successes. You earned the leader’s chair because you performed at a superior level. Take a victory lap. Now, let it all go and focus on the job ahead.



Keep the following questions in mind while you read the rest of the practices. At the conclusion of this book, you’ll take your insights and craft a plan for becoming the leader your team deserves.

What kind of leader does your team need right now? What kind of leader does your organization need you to be?

What do you need to learn (or unlearn) to become the leader they need?

Picture yourself ten years from now. What do you want your team to say about this time in their lives? What results will you and your team have delivered? How would you want your team to describe your leadership?

What do you need to do in the coming months to make your vision happen?


In the wise words attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” The only way to check your paradigms is to compare them to reality. One of the ways to assess and strengthen the collective capabilities of the team is to get to know them better.

Pick a few questions and go through this activity once a year as a team or whenever a new member joins the team. It’s not a strategy to confirm your biases; it’s an exercise to challenge your paradigms. Declare your intent beforehand, and encourage your team to share as much or as little as they’re comfortable with.

Exercise Option A: Pair, share, and rotate. Everyone, including the manager, pair up and ask your partner one question from this list. After each person has answered at least one question, rotate to another partner and repeat. Continue rotating until each person talks to everyone else at least once. (If your team has an odd number, you may have a trio.)

Exercise Option B: Group share. As a group (or, if the team is too large, split into halves or thirds), go around in a circle and answer as many questions as appropriate. Determine beforehand whether the team wants to answer all or some of the questions, or limit the exercise by time.

1. What’s something about your background that others at work may not know about you? For example: something about where you grew up, your family, culture, or beliefs.

2. What’s important to you outside of work? For example: being physically active, community service, trying new restaurants, relaxing, or other hobbies.

3. Tell us about a prior job that had a big influence on who you are today. What did you like or not like about it?

4. Tell us about one of your goals. For example: a short-term goal related to your current role, a long-term career goal, or a personal goal.

5. What makes your job most rewarding? Tell us about what motivates you at work.

6. What’s one thing you want people to know about how you like to communicate? For example: email vs. in person, or short bursts vs. long discussions.

7. What’s one thing you want people to know about how you process feedback? For example: scheduled vs. in the moment, or active dialogue vs. sitting back and listening.

8. How do you like to be recognized? For example: in writing vs. in person, in public vs. in private? What do your preferences say about you?

9. Do you consider yourself introverted or extroverted? What situations draw out your introverted/extroverted side?

10. What types of personalities frustrate or fatigue you? How have you learned to collaborate more effectively with them?

Feel free to add your own questions that relate to your team’s culture, challenges, or expertise. Did you learn anything surprising about your team members… or about yourself? Were any of your existing paradigms challenged? How will adjusting them affect your leadership?


Take a moment to review this practice, and note the insights that most resonated with you.

Jot down two to three action items you want to commit to.



Several years ago, we had a superstar project manager, Joanna, who worked remotely and led a team of junior project managers. Joanna was developing her team’s capacities, hitting goals quarter after quarter, and doing extremely well financially—a low-maintenance high performer you could count on to deliver.

Then she handed in her two weeks’ notice.

As chief people officer, I dropped everything to meet with her and convince her to stay. Did she get another offer somewhere else? better incentives? We’d match it!

But as we talked, Joanna made it clear those weren’t the issues at all. Working from her home office made her feel disconnected from her team, and the way her manager spoke with her during their 1-on-1s only made things worse.

“He’s a good guy,” she told me. “But when we talk, it’s just long enough for him to run through my projects. He acknowledges that they’re always on time and on budget, but then the meeting is over. Never a question about the challenges of working remotely or what I’m interested in doing next. I know it’s not his job to be my friend, but I want to work where I feel valued and connected—not just a machine.”

I spoke with her manager about the issue but couldn’t make much headway. He insisted that he’d love “time to chat” with each team member, but he had an overwhelming schedule.

As a last-ditch effort, I convinced Joanna to move to another team with a promising new leader. Because he was new to leadership, this leader was hyper-focused on the fundamentals. He met regularly with his team members individually. He asked them questions. He listened. He remembered that his employees were whole people with lives beyond work. He made an effort to draw in remote employees and encouraged the team to interact and collaborate.

Joanna flourished with this leader, not only tackling bigger goals than ever but also helping her peers do the same. I’m happy to report that she continues to be a superstar for our organization to this day.

We all work for more than a paycheck. We crave camaraderie, collaboration, and engagement, especially as fewer of us work in brick-and-mortar buildings.

What I especially appreciate about the experience with Joanna was that the newer leader understood this. It’s not always about how many years you have under your belt as a leader. That can work against you if you unintentionally go on autopilot and forget that leaders need to address the emotional aspect of the job.

Now think about your leadership style—both who you are now and who you want to be. Analyze yourself: Are you more like Joanna’s first leader, or her new one? Do you have any Joannas on your team? What could you do to find out? And how can you ensure that engaging your team members on a regular basis is job number one, no matter how busy you get?


* * *

As we build the case that 1-on-1s are one of your strongest levers to engage your team, let’s first define what we mean by “engagement.” At FranklinCovey, we’ve found that employees typically fall on a spectrum, with a distinct difference between the bottom and top three levels:

Note the dotted line in the middle—it’s key. Team members above the line are doing the job because they want to, while those below are doing the job because they have to. If people are indifferently compliant or lower, you will have to tell them over and over what to do, because they won’t do it on their own.

While all leaders would love to have their teams at the top level, occasionally they say, “Some days, I’d take indifferent compliance!” It might be tempting just to get by, but don’t settle—true engagement pays off. Gallup has consistently linked employee engagement with profitability, productivity, quality, and turnover.I

Leaders don’t, in fact, create engagement. People choose their level of engagement. Leaders create the conditions for engagement—for better or worse.

As we saw with Joanna, a paycheck alone isn’t enough to motivate your team to climb the levels. Neither are bonuses, offices, titles, praise, or even ultimatums and threats. Those may be easy to deploy, but their effectiveness fades fast. If we promise a direct report that they’ll get a bonus if they land a critical project, their immediate performance may spike. But the next time we want to motivate them, we may have to pony up another bonus. That’s not sustainable financially, but more importantly, it won’t catalyze the engagement of your people long term.


Assess Your Team’s Engagement

Place each of your team members on the level where you tend to see them most. Where would you put yourself? What’s the average mark for your team? What would be different if the average moved up one level? Would you get any different results? You might not know where an individual falls and what it takes for them to move up the scale of engagement. If that’s the case, effective 1-on-1s are going to be extra important.

And by the way, don’t let this be a secret framework for your eyes only. Share and discuss it with your team (your overall team engagement, of course, not where you rank each individual). I love this model and often use it with my team members to identify where we are and what we can do to move up that scale of engagement.


In our experience, people rarely quit their jobs based on compensation; rather, they quit their manager. Or they quit the culture. So it’s imperative to consider the conditions you are creating for a compelling work environment. Do you make it easy, engaging, and actually enjoyable to get work done, or are there too many processes making it difficult and unrewarding? Do you look over people’s shoulders, closely monitoring their progress? Or maybe you abandon colleagues, leaving them to figure things out entirely on their own? Do you celebrate people, or do you let opportunities to acknowledge them pass you by? Do you give your team courageous yet considerate feedback? Do they feel safe telling you the truth? Is it too challenging or not challenging enough for team members to succeed in your culture—and do you notice when they do?

We often think of culture as a nebulous concept. But leaders create culture in every interaction, email, meeting, speech, or text. They also can destroy it in those interactions: talking about people behind their back, using an inappropriate tone in an email or a text, failing to give people credit, ignoring someone in the hallway, or complaining about company policies. Because you’re a leader, you’re noticed. Every time you communicate, every time you open your mouth, you create culture. And 1-on-1 interactions are one of your best tools to build and reinforce the type of culture every team member deserves. Strategically planned and executed, 1-on-1s are arguably the best way to create the conditions for high engagement and ensure your team members are connected to you as their leader.



I hold 1-on-1s to monitor people’s progress.

I hold regular 1-on-1s to help people get—and stay—engaged.

Unfortunately, 1-on-1s often end up as status updates—if we hold them at all. They become rote meetings to check people’s progress: “What did you work on last week? What are you working on this week? Great. Next!”

If our main interaction with our team members is to check that they’ve hit key benchmarks, we become our team’s monitor. You might get incremental improvements this way, but you’re just as likely to deflate people’s energy, zap their creativity, and drive them to do the minimum.

By only monitoring progress, the leader in Todd’s story missed the opportunity to discover that Joanna actually wanted connection more than another bonus. He thought he didn’t have enough time to hold more in-depth 1-on-1s, so he saved thirty minutes a week in the short term, and lost one of his most high-performing employees in the long term.

In contrast, effective leaders use 1-on-1s to coach. They create the conditions for engagement by meeting regularly with each team member, drawing out issues through open-ended questions and Empathic Listening, and helping people solve problems.

In effective 1-on-1s, you might hear things like:

“A colleague is blocking my progress.”

“My personal life is falling apart.”

“I’m getting bored with my role.”

“I have a great idea, but I haven’t had time to think it through.”

“I get really nervous when I give presentations, and I need help.”

“I’m not sure what you expect.”

Because information like this is uncovered, 1-on-1s have higher stakes than other kinds of meetings. And they take different skills. If we prepare beforehand and coach during these meetings, we can unearth challenges, head off problems, test new ideas, celebrate successes, and encourage growth.


First, let’s establish some best practices for 1-on-1s. Schedule them in advance as recurring calendar appointments. Try to meet at the same day and time for each team member. Reserve at least thirty minutes, because it’s difficult to have meaningful conversations in less time. Hold them regularly—the gold standard is weekly—and commit to that date and time without moving the appointment if possible.


Announce 1-on-1s and Set Expectations with Your Team

Consider making a team announcement like this:

I’m going to start asking for 1-on-1 meetings with each of you. I want to be careful that they’re valuable and that they follow a specific format: weekly or twice monthly, about thirty minutes long. They won’t replace staff meetings. The purpose is for you to express concerns; let me know how you’re feeling about your role, the organization, and your development; and call on me for help. Be realistic about what we can accomplish during the time. On average, I’m going to spend eighty percent of the time listening, coaching, and helping you solve problems.

I ask for your help scheduling and maintaining them. There will be some rocky paths when either party can’t honor them. We need to pre-forgive each other. I’ll do my best not to cancel, recognizing that sometimes I‘ll need to. Generally, we’re heading in a new direction. What’s important to remember is that these are your meetings, not mine. Be thoughtful about focusing on your highest-leverage items to grow your career, skills, and engagement, and help you feel like a winning member of this team.


Don’t cancel unless absolutely necessary. Canceling a 1-on-1 is a huge withdrawal—it clearly communicates to the team member that they’re not important. It will be frighteningly easy to cancel the second, third, and fourth 1-on-1 after you’ve greased that track. Holding your second 1-on-1 is probably even more important than the first one. Same with the third. Once you’re in, you have to stay in.

* * *

A good friend, Drew, told me about joining a new company. On his first day, his new boss shared with him what a great talent he was, what an important role he was filling, and how glad she was that he joined them. Drew’s success was one of her top priorities, so she wanted to meet weekly to support him.

When their first meeting came around, Drew was buzzing with ideas and questions. But that morning, the boss’s assistant apologetically called to reschedule. Something important had come up. Drew was disappointed, but said he understood and would look forward to their next meeting.

But the following week, Drew received another apologetic call from the assistant.

And no surprise—it happened the following week too. Before long, several months passed, and he still hadn’t met with his manager outside of staff meetings.

Drew learned from his co-workers that this was a common pattern and that he shouldn’t expect it to change. The excitement of his new role diminished, and his morale sank to the point that he thought about quitting. Instead, he resigned himself to just getting through his to-do list each day.

The canceled 1-on-1s sent a clear message: Drew wasn’t a priority, and his engagement didn’t matter.


* * *

Often you’ll be tempted to cancel your 1-on-1s when your own boss has demanded something urgent from you. Proactively assess when your boss is most likely to commandeer your time and see if you can schedule your 1-on-1s when they have a sacred meeting that they’re unlikely to cancel. Depending on your culture and relationship with your leader, you might also consider framing it as a question for them: “I have a regularly scheduled 1-on-1 with Tina at that time. Do you want me to cancel on her?” With some thoughtfulness, you can think through the temptations and distractions likely to come your way.

Prepare an agenda. Collect your thoughts ahead of time and ask your team member to do the same. Avoid talking about the same things over and over.


1-on-1 Meeting Planner

Sometimes leaders think they should know everything by heart, never missing a detail, and give that appearance to their team. I often advise leaders to use tools and resources to help them, and to not be afraid of showing their teams that they do. After all, that’s how you create the culture of preparing and learning in order to achieve results. I usually write down the key questions I want to ask and the most important points I want to cover prior to the meeting. I never try to hide that; on the contrary, I often share it. It sets the tone that I want my team members to do the same.

We’ve included 1-on-1 prep worksheets for you and your team members at the end of this chapter. The worksheets have been field-tested by thousands of leaders. Use them as they are or customize them for your team.


Remember that the purpose of this meeting is to lift the engagement of your team member. Let them be part of creating the agenda or invite them to take the lead. The format may vary—sometimes one or both of you will fill out an agenda planner like the ones at the end of this chapter; sometimes you’ll lead, sometimes they will. Whatever the structure, remember the point is to lift their engagement. One constant: you’re not going to have more time than you need, so be realistic about priorities and put the most important items up front, including the issues that require the most conversation, assessment, or brainstorming.

Account for your energy. In his recent bestseller When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink discussed the concept of understanding your energy peaks, troughs, and recovery. Ask yourself at what point of the day are you at your highest levels of energy—physically and intellectually? At what points are you at your lowest? I’ve realized my peak is from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. when I do my best creative thinking and collaborating. I execute on those ideas at a fevered pace until 11:30 a.m., when I become fixated on lunch. My trough hits in the afternoon.

Now that I know this, I need to schedule my 1-on-1s in the morning so my team gets my finest attention and discipline, and I’m least likely to cancel them. Don’t schedule 1-on-1s when your energy wanes or schedule them back-to-back without a break. And, of course, you’ll never find the perfectly optimal time, but consider your team member’s energy level as well. Although we generally recommend keeping the appointment time consistent, you might want to rotate your meeting time if there’s a conflict between your energy needs and theirs.

Adjust for remote 1-on-1s. If part or all of your team is remote from you, you’ll need to modify your 1-on-1s. Without daily in-person interaction, it’s easy to miss subtle cues about how they’re doing. You’ll likely need extra time to talk—and listen—about their concerns, questions, and progress.


1-on-1s Can Save Time in the Long Term

You might see adding weekly 1-on-1s with your team members to your calendar as a lot of extra work and time. But holding them regularly might actually save you time. This might be the perfect solution to avoid interruptions and last-minute urgent tasks that result from not having regular individual check-ins with your team.


I was recently consulting with an organization that had a team member working remotely on the other side of the country. She only saw her team in person three to four times a year. I asked her how she liked working out of her home after a career in an office, and she said, “I like the flexibility, but sometimes the silence is deafening.”

Break up remote 1-on-1s over multiple days. Try scheduling shorter, more frequent 1-on-1s so there’s less time between meetings and an extra chance to pick up on brewing issues.

Respect time zones. When scheduling, be considerate of what time it is on your team member’s side of the world—and how that affects your team member’s peak, trough, and recovery times.

Use face-to-face tools. Leaders need to be aware of how lonely and disconnected virtual members might feel. It’s hard to create culture sitting alone at the kitchen table. Whenever possible, conduct your virtual 1-on-1s on video so you can see their body language and facial expression. Don’t underestimate the power of video conferencing with remote employees—it could be the difference between them staying engaged in the culture and abandoning it.


Use Video to Increase Engagement

I was recently working with a manager on a performance plan for a particular team member. One of the issues was the team member’s level of engagement. The manager noted that during their weekly team calls with many remote members, this employee was the only one who didn’t join those calls using video (she used only audio). While it may sound like a small thing, it truly lowered the level of engagement, and the manager was left to wonder how present this employee really was.

Video is more than just convenient. In this virtual age of working, it has become more and more the norm for how we connect with others, so don’t take it lightly. Remember, if you don’t use video, you cut out the huge percentage of communication that comes through body language and expression.

You want to set the culture by encouraging all remote team members to attend virtual meetings via video—and modeling it yourself.


Now for some real talk. When done properly and methodically, 1-on-1s can change your culture of engagement. But they could also destroy it when done haphazardly or, worse, not honored at all.

Think carefully about how you’re going to ease into this practice, because it differs drastically from holding performance appraisals once a year or quarter. When I was working with a client recently, I introduced the practice of holding regular 1-on-1s to the team leader, Chris. He immediately realized the opportunity to grow the business and help his team of thirty connect to him as the leader, and got excited to announce it to his team the next day. But I cautioned him, “Chris, be careful about announcing that you’re now going to hold 1-on-1s every week with every member of the team. Because if you’re like most leaders, you’re going to overcommit yourself, burn out, and start canceling. And it will actually decrease the level of trust you have with your team.”

You don’t want to fall into the trap of announcing 1-on-1s with everyone when you might not be able to keep that promise. Once you open your calendar, reality will set in. With simple thoughtfulness, Chris recalibrated: “Okay, what can I actually accomplish? Could it be monthly?” Once a month was 100 percent more than what he was currently doing. As much as he recognized the value of instituting regular 1-on-1s, he also recognized the importance of not overcommitting.

Holding regular 1-on-1s requires a level of discipline and perseverance that will be constantly tested by urgent requests, distractions, and needs coming down from your own leader. It challenges the conventional paradigm that bosses run meetings and address their own priorities. It’s possible that you’ve been craving this meeting with your own leader, but they haven’t made the time for it. You need to summon the maturity, stamina, and vision to decide you’re going to be the leader your people need, not based on the leader you may have.

Don’t underestimate how difficult but impactful and rewarding these meetings can be. You’re going to need to continually revise your thinking about what happens during this meeting, your role vs. their role, how much time you listen vs. speak, and perhaps most importantly, the damage that comes from not honoring them. You may not be recognized for keeping them, but you will be made a pariah for canceling them.

Be measured. Calibrate. Be realistic. Don’t overcommit. Although we recommend holding them weekly, your cadence will be based on your day job, your number of direct reports, your other commitments, and the demands of your own boss. If your team is large, you might decide to hold them every two or four weeks so you don’t implode under the weight of your commitment.


In this practice, we’re shifting from monitors of actions to coaches of people. That requires you to no longer tell people what to do, but to ask them how they would do it; from having all the answers to helping people discover the answers; from checking boxes to asking meaningful questions—and really listening to their answers. When you make this transition, you’ll move from directing and informing to inspiring and engaging.

Coaching means respecting your team members’ abilities and believing they have the capacity to grow. It means encouraging them to problem-solve, think in new ways, and develop their talents. Some colleagues will resist solving their own problems because they lack confidence. Coaching builds that confidence and minimizes dependencies.


Meet Them Where They Are

I conduct a lot of 1-on-1s in my role, many of them quite sensitive. Before every meeting, I remind myself to try to get in the other person’s shoes. I think over the topics we will be discussing and try to “meet them where they are.” I use this phrase to remember I really want to connect with them. That doesn’t mean I plan to agree with them on every topic; it means I try to see things from their perspective, to get in their frame of reference. “I wonder how Greg is coping with his recent promotion. I know he thinks he has too many graphic designers reporting to him, and he’s missing deadlines. Is he feeling overwhelmed?”

Thinking through the meeting beforehand helps me have empathy and identify ways to help the person with whom I’m meeting. Some leaders say this feels too mechanical. If it’s not something you’ve done before, it may feel awkward at first. But if your intent is to develop your team, it will become natural in short order, enabling you to positively influence those you are leading.


To coach well, you must be fully present. Whether you’re conducting the meeting live or virtually, remove as many distractions as possible. Close your laptop and put any tasks away from your line of sight. Resist looking at your phone every time it vibrates.

Giving someone your undivided attention—truly rare these days—can signal profound respect for the team member. When the meeting starts, I recommend intentionally placing your phone on silent and putting it away, in order to demonstrate that they have your full attention. Literally do this in front of the other person. It may seem a bit contrived, but it’s a tangible sign that they are your top priority for the next thirty minutes.

* * *

During a particularly stressful time at work and home, I still took pride in keeping my commitment of holding my 1-on-1s with my team members. But to be honest, while I was physically there, I wasn’t mentally present. I was “ticking the box.” I thought I hid it well.

But when I asked my team members for feedback on the previous quarter’s 1-on-1 meetings, two of them told me that I seemed preoccupied and that my mind was elsewhere.

I was embarrassed that my lack of attention had been so transparent! But that wasn’t the real issue. I didn’t need to learn better techniques to hide my preoccupation; I needed a strategy to stay focused and give my team members the attention they deserved.

Since receiving that feedback, I take ten minutes before each 1-on-1 to review the previous meeting’s notes, turn off my email notifications, and silence my phone. After a few deep breaths and quiet time to reflect and focus, I feel much more present during the meetings. And my team members notice too.

Get feedback on whether the 1-on-1s are adding value, and discuss what you both can do to improve the meetings.


* * *

Try to take care of anything urgent that could arise during the meeting beforehand, and let those around you know not to interrupt. An employee might become emotional during a 1-on-1, and the last thing you want is for them to feel like someone will walk in during a vulnerable moment. If you meet in an open-concept space or an office with glass walls, establish appropriate privacy before the meeting. Perhaps keep tissues discreetly nearby. A little thoughtfulness goes a long way. People will remember how you handle these moments.

Ask Coaching Questions

Coaching questions are open-ended and can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. They encourage reflection and invite team members to do the majority of the talking and solve their own problems.

Instead of: “Are you liking your job?”

Ask: “What do you like about your role? What would you like to see change?”

Instead of: “Everything going okay?”

Ask: “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?”

Instead of: “Here’s what I’d do…” or “Have you considered…”

Ask: “How did you approach this situation last time? Why do you think that worked (or not)?”

At the end of this chapter, we’ve gathered an extensive list of coaching questions to address challenging situations (e.g., helping a team member solve a problem on their own, getting your 1-on-1s out of a rut, and drawing out a difficult issue). Before your 1-on-1s, add the most relevant questions to your prep worksheet or agenda. Any one of those questions could take up your whole 1-on-1—and that’s perfectly fine. Go with the flow and get the conversation going.


Coaching Former Peers and Other Smart People

You might find yourself managing people who used to be your peers, which can be uncomfortable at first. With them or very senior members on my team, I’ve made the mistake of expecting that they don’t need me, even thinking that if I asked if they needed my help or if I gave advice, it would feel condescending.

On one particular occasion, I truly failed. The new recruit was so senior that I expected her to make it on her own, without any support or coaching from me. But this turned out to be lose-lose. Because my expectations were so high, she was hesitant to ask for help and I didn’t realize until it was too late that she was struggling.

If you only communicate “I expect great things from you,” people believe that you expect them to do everything on their own. I should have sat down with this senior employee and clarified together what she was comfortable handling on her own and where she needed my support.

Since then, when I hire other very experienced people, I take time to diagnose their knowledge and confidence. I don’t assume anything from their résumé. I spend more time trying to understand how much coaching they need. I’m also careful to establish that I’m there to support and coach them, and they should use me as their sounding board.

If you just ask your team members if they need support, a lot of people will say no—unless you’ve established that supporting your team is exactly why you’re there.


For your first 1-on-1, you won’t naturally switch from a traditional meeting approach, where you’re monitoring results and providing solutions, to a coaching model, without some practice. Try role-playing it with a trusted peer to practice moving from talking 80 percent of the time to 20 percent, from leading the meeting to following, from solving to coaching.


During a 1-on-1 with Allison, whom I’ve worked with for more than a decade, she began to share a challenge I happened to be fairly passionate about. I immediately flipped into problem-solving mode, spouting ideas, grilling her with questions, and then interrupting her to answer them myself. Finally Allison said in exasperation, “If you would just shut up, I’d tell you.”

It stopped me in my tracks. What was I doing? I had violated every part of the 1-on-1 and caused one of my most effective (and polite) team members to blow a gasket. And she was totally in the right.

Listening is a vastly undervalued leadership competency. We’re taught the importance of clarifying our messages, communicating with confidence and persuasion, and mastering the specific words we use. At most, we give some lip service to the value of just shutting up and listening. It’s counterintuitive as a leader, because we’ve often spent our careers talking—setting a vision others want to follow; convincing; instructing. Those are hard to do silently.

Listening is hard work. It requires you to suspend your own needs and check into someone else’s. It necessitates self-control, discipline, and a genuine interest in understanding another’s point of view. Listening requires you to care.

Too often in our current world of showmanship, listening can be viewed as weakness. Telling—now that’s a strength. TED Talks, for example, are built on telling… faster.

Here’s a listening technique that’s helped me over the years, modified from an original version by Deborah Tannen, the famed Georgetown University professor of linguistics and communication expert. When someone else is talking, purposely close your mouth and ensure your lips touch each other (your own lips, not yours to theirs). If your upper and lower lips are touching, it’s impossible to speak. Try it. You literally can’t form a word, thus you can’t interrupt. Don’t overexaggerate it. Just close your mouth, gently keep your lips touching, and listen.

There’s more. When the other person is finished talking, keep your lips together, count to three, or even five. If you remain silent, the likelihood that they will keep talking is high. It’s during this second “round” of listening that the other person may share vital, relevant, even touching details about their point of view.

I’m convinced that the first step to becoming a better listener is to simply stop talking and eliminate, or even just lessen, your own interrupting.

* * *

Once while leading a diverse team of individuals from several different countries, I knew my ability to truly understand would be critical to our success. I was consciously using silence during 1-on-1s to get to the heart of different issues.

I even overheard one team member say to another, “You always end up talking more than you expect when you walk into her office.” My goal wasn’t to uncover people’s secrets, but to understand their viewpoints. What motivated them? Why did they act in a certain way? What experiences had given them their unique perspectives?

Being comfortable with silence gave my team members the space they needed to ponder, explore, and share. And it gave me time to listen deeply and allow important issues to surface naturally, which helped me see the bigger picture and become a better coach and leader.

I have learned to use silence to communicate better. It took a while since I’m normally a chatty person. But when I was given the nickname “Queen of Silence” by my team, I had proof that listening is a leadership skill you can learn and develop.


* * *

Contrast interrupting with Empathic Listening, or listening with the intent to understand. The essence of Empathic Listening is not that you agree or disagree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually. Suspend your thinking long enough to get inside another person’s frame of reference, looking out through it, and trying to sincerely see the world the way they see it. You understand their paradigm and begin to understand how they feel.

Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is a form of agreement and sometimes is appropriate for the situation. But some people feed on sympathy, and it makes them further dependent… on you.

Empathic Listening requires you to pay attention to what they’re saying, and their body language as well. You listen for feeling, meaning, and behavior. Then check for understanding:

“So what you’re saying is…”

“Let me make sure I’m hearing you correctly…”

“It seems as if you’re upset about this. Is that right…?”

Be careful not to overuse these phrases. Make sure you deploy them sincerely, or they may come off too studied or as a technique. The key is to try to understand the other person’s point of view. Great leaders continue to do this after the conversation, by synthesizing common themes they hear during the 1-on-1, setting goals based on these conversations, and implementing changes accordingly. You’re going to have much better results with your 1-on-1s if you approach them as a continuous conversation and not just a thirty-minute hoop to jump through.

* * *

Recently a team member came to me for advice about a serious issue. I listened and helped her find a solution. It was a good one-hour proper coaching chat. She left happy.

The next day someone from the same department wanted to talk to me. I didn’t have time, but he started off in a very similar way as the person the day before. I thought, “Hey, I can help him because I already solved this problem yesterday!” A couple of sentences from him triggered my entire response. I gave him the same advice and rushed off to my meeting.

Only because I had a good relationship with him did I find out that my advice led to complete disaster. I had to apologize, go back, and truly listen. And, of course, I learned that his issue was a different one and required different advice. Instead of having to undo the damage I had accidentally created by trying to rush through his problem, I should have set up a separate time to listen to him.

Many managers say they’re bad at listening when they’re stressed or have negative feelings. I actually don’t listen well when I’m super enthusiastic. I go right into solving problems—even if it’s not the actual problem that needs solving.

When do you tend to slip out of listening mode?


* * *

Dr. Stephen R. Covey said, “The deepest need of the human heart is to feel understood.” Slow down the next time you’re in a conversation where emotions are high. Listen for what the other person is really saying. Stretch yourself to look through another person’s frame of reference.


A pushback I often get with Empathic Listening is “I don’t want to become the office therapist” or “When does Empathetic Listening end? When do we finally get to problem solving?”

While listening is clearly essential (and the part most leaders struggle with), 1-on-1s also require you to share insights, ideas, and frameworks to coach, support, and develop your team members.

For example, one of my team members was starting to feel discouraged about not reaching his targets. By carefully listening during our 1-on-1s, I detected his frustration and we discussed how it was impacting his engagement. But I didn’t leave it there. We then devised a plan to improve his sales calls and reach his goals. It wasn’t enough to listen; he needed hands-on coaching and advice.

Coaching is more than asking questions and listening; it’s keeping each other accountable for what you’ve discussed and taking action. If you’re focused on engagement throughout your 1-on-1, your team member should feel ownership over their responsibilities, and excitement at the prospect of accomplishing their goals.

Wrap up by reviewing any action items from last week. If they didn’t complete the previous week’s commitments, you should listen, understand the reason, and coach your team member about how to move forward. Address the issue early before it becomes a trend. Then agree on next steps. Don’t fall into the trap of telling your team member what to do; let them articulate their commitments. You’ll learn in Practice 3 how to delegate effectively and give feedback if things aren’t going well—for example, if a team member is constantly missing deadlines.

One way you can help your team is by clearing the path—cutting through bureaucratic red tape, connecting the team member with a contact, or getting a response from someone who’s been unavailable. This is especially helpful for someone you’re managing whose job is outside of your technical expertise. Ask, “What can I do this week to support you?” or “What resources can I provide?” Then get it done. Keeping your commitments is just as important as employees keeping theirs.

I. Gallup, Inc. (2013, June 20). How Employee Engagement Drives Growth. Retrieved from



Use the worksheets below to plan your 1-on-1s or modify them as needed. They’ll help you ask relevant questions in your next 1-on-1 and make the time more valuable for both of you.

In addition to helping you prepare for your 1-on-1s, these worksheets will help you keep a record of your conversations. Many managers are so busy or have so many direct reports, that they forget what they spoke about in their last 1-on-1. If you don’t remember what you talked about last week, you’ve lost time and momentum.

Note: You’ll learn more about reinforcing and redirecting feedback in Practice 4.




Outcome and follow-up items from previous 1-on-1:

The person’s overall development goals:

Current development focus:

Reinforcing feedback I want to give:

Redirecting feedback I want to give:

Feedback I want to seek from my direct report:

Projects or tasks I want to ask about:




Outcome and follow-up items from previous 1-on-1:

My biggest challenge right now and ways my manager could help me:

My biggest opportunity right now and ideas about next steps:

Things my manager should know but doesn’t:

Additional information I need to do my job:

Other tasks or projects I want to talk about:


Review of progress toward my development goals:

List of things I’d like to ask my manager for feedback on:

Development area I want to focus on this week and how my manager can help me:


Reinforcing feedback I want to give to help my manager improve:

Redirecting feedback I want to give to help my manager improve:


Use these open-ended questions with your 1-on-1 prep worksheet:

To Gauge the Team Member’s Engagement Level


How are you feeling about your role?

In what ways do you feel like you’re growing, or not growing, in your role? What makes you say that?

What interests you about the project(s) you’re currently working on, and why?

What is your favorite/least favorite thing about your work right now?

How do you think that least favorite thing affects your overall performance?

What’s working well for you in your current position?

What would you like to see change?

In what ways does your current position allow you to use your skills and talents?

Which areas make you feel like you’re stuck or unable to reach your full potential?

What do you think you could be doing differently?

If you could work on anything for the next month, what would it be?

What’s one thing that could make your work more satisfying, and why?

Which areas would you like more feedback on?


How would you describe the personality of the team? What sort of person would work well here? What sort of person would add something we’re currently missing?

How could we improve our teamwork?

Is there anything you’d like to see change about the team, and if so, why?


In what ways do you feel supported, or not supported, by me?

What am I doing or not doing to help you succeed?

In what ways can I clear the path for you to make your job more interesting or less complicated?

To Draw Out an Issue

Can you share some of the details around that particular issue?

What was that experience like for you?

How did that affect you?

What do you think caused that to happen?

To Coach a Team Member to Solve a Problem

What’s your number-one problem right now?

What have you tried so far?

What ideas can you bring in from past successes?

What haven’t you tried yet?

To Support Career Development

What are some of the work projects you’re most proud of, and what do you think you might want to do next?

What are two to three new skills you’d like to learn on the job? What about those skills interests you?

What other roles could you see yourself playing down the line? Or what areas would you like to explore?

If you were to create your ideal position, how would it differ from what you are currently doing?

To Learn About Challenges

What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing? How can I help with that?

At what point in the past week were you most frustrated with or discouraged by your work? What can I do to help you manage that?

What are your biggest concerns about your current project(s)?

To Learn More About a Project

What aspect of this project has been particularly interesting for you?

What frustrates you about the project?

What can I do to make things more manageable?

What do you think I should know about the project, but might not?

To Check In Regarding a Change

What concerns do you have about this change that haven’t been addressed?

What’s going well and not so well with the new situation? Why do you think this might be happening?

How is the new situation affecting your work? What could be getting in the way of you being effective?

To Promote Continuity Between 1-on-1s

What progress have you made on the next steps we discussed last time?

In our last 1-on-1, you mentioned that you’d like to grow in X. How has that been going?

What development areas do you want to work on in the coming weeks?

To Break Out of 1-on-1s That Feel Ineffective or in a Rut

What would you like to see change about these discussions? How could we make them more useful for you?

I’m trying to make our 1-on-1s better and would appreciate your honest feedback. What did you like about our 1-on-1s and what can I do better?

What is one thing I can stop, start, or continue doing to make these 1-on-1s more valuable?


Take a moment to review this practice, and note the insights that most resonated with you.

Jot down two to three action items you want to commit to.



* * *

I once worked at a luxury hotel in Paris that prided itself on extraordinary customer service. Whenever a VIP would visit, the staff took extra care to set the dinner tables perfectly. They had years of experience and knew their jobs inside and out. But invariably, after the waiters had set a VIP’s table, the supervisor would stop by. She would study everything, then reposition a champagne flute. A minute later, the assistant manager would show up and refold a linen napkin. The staff members would glance at each other as management corrected their work. But it wasn’t over. The general manager would then stroll from his top-floor office to the VIP table. After a moment of reflection, he would rearrange the centerpiece!

After a while, the staff learned not to bother with getting the placements perfect—they knew management would do it themselves. By taking over and doing the work, these hotel leaders unwittingly sabotaged their long-term success (unless their goal was to have several layers of management adjust forks every night). Their team members grew indifferent and even resentful. They had little incentive to bring their best ideas and skills when management would simply override them anyway.


* * *

I’m always surprised how many people come to work every day and have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. If people are doing their jobs solely because their boss told them to, it sucks engagement right out of a team.



I tell team members what to do and how to do it.

I help team members get clear about the “why” behind the “what” and support them in the “how.”

You often get promoted because of your stellar results. As the new manager, you start to build trust and rapport with your new team when, suddenly, you hit a snag. That’s when the common mindset above kicks in: telling people what to do and often even more deadly, resorting to your comfort zone to do it yourself—after all, you know how to produce results. It seems faster, more controllable, and guaranteed to succeed.

But the common mindset shuts down team creativity and ownership (think of the hotel staff in Victoria’s story), places a huge burden on the manager, and destroys trust. In this scenario, the boss has to know all the answers, oversee every detail, and crack the whip to make sure it gets done. I would know—I spent quite a few years with this mindset and had to consciously break myself of it. It just doesn’t work long term (and in my case, even short term!). As chief marketing officer, I caught myself peering over my employees’ shoulders to help choose which type of ribbon to use on a mail piece (satin, obviously). At one point, I was so focused on ribbons that one afternoon a newer employee walked up to me and asked if I had more ribbon. I sarcastically responded, “Sure. A whole roll, right here in my pocket.” To my horror, he believed me. I had set the expectation that the CMO of a global professional-services company would personally manage ribbon inventory. It became a ludicrous lesson in micromanagement.

If leaders tell their teams exactly how to debug the code, write the grant application, or issue ribbon—they’ll be doing the same thing a year from now. It’s not scalable. If you’re not delegating (which also involves teaching, coaching, and advising), you’re an individual producer masquerading as a leader. You may think nobody knows. In fact, they do… everyone knows.

In contrast, the effective mindset helps your team become invested in decisions and understand the big picture behind the daily grind. But it does require an ongoing investment of time, patience, and maturity. Great leaders plan goals with their teams rather than for them, and delegate tasks without abandoning or micromanaging. They shift from telling team members what to do, to aligning their work to greater purposes and supporting their efforts.

Let me share a somewhat humbling story of how my successor transformed the level of engagement in the Marketing division after me through adherence to this principle. For nearly a decade, I decided the budget and goals for our Marketing team somewhat unilaterally. Every year, I would sit with my own boss, door closed, discuss the team goals, develop a budget, then dole out resources to the team as I saw fit. This worked quite well… because no one knew the difference. I centralized power and decision making at my level and above, and although I discussed tactics with my team, I ultimately decided what would be approved and at what funding level.

When my successor took on the role, he—like all new bosses—set out to create his own cultural standards and processes. One of the first things he did was open up the budget to his direct reports. He set the priorities with his boss, and then, unlike my process, he sat down with his team, discussed the goals of the division, asked for their input, and then built the budget transparently with them, which developed a much higher level of engagement and empowerment around that process.

Then he took it a step further. Once he knew the budget allocated for their projects, he turned over portions of the budget to them, and they decided how to invest it for the highest return. Now the social media manager had his own budget and decided how to spend it. So did the marketing automation manager, the creative services director, and so on.

As I reflect on my approach versus his, I’ve been inspired to trust my team members more and hoard information less. If I had a redo, I would have been less fearful about turning over some control and more interested in the team’s insights, because they were closer to the actual work that needed to get done to achieve the goals. My successor’s process was high involvement, high commitment—versus my process, which was no involvement, compulsory commitment.

* * *

A few years ago, I was working with a franchisee of an international fast-food chain who faced a difficult decision after Sweden passed tax reforms. He either had to increase revenues, or cut costs by letting people go. At first, he tried to motivate his people to do more with extrinsic motivators like performance bonuses. But that didn’t have much of an effect, and it looked like he would have to reduce his workforce across ten stores.

After an in-depth discussion, we brought the entire staff together, and he shared the “why” behind what was going on: the tax calculation had changed, and stores needed to be more profitable to save jobs. Together, the teams collaborated on the goals they needed to achieve and the specific behaviors they would adopt to meet those goals. The owner made himself available to support the staff in the “how.”

Almost immediately, things changed. Crew members made improvements and reduced costs. Management removed obstacles that got in the way or rearranged resources to fit current needs. And the results skyrocketed! Soon these ten stores were outperforming others and met the goals they’d set, saving many jobs. But it only happened once the owner and his management team changed their thinking first, then shared what was going on and stepped back.


* * *


Dr. Stephen R. Covey taught a related concept that inspires and haunts me daily. He described two types of leadership responsibilities, both valuable: working “in the system” (doing things right) and working “on the system” (doing the right things). Working in the system is the daily job, tasks, meetings, and projects to keep the business going. Working on the system includes higher-level strategic direction, visioning, and systems alignment. Effective leaders balance their focus.

Working in the system isn’t a bad thing. It’s necessary: rolling up your sleeves and getting the work done with your colleagues. But too often, leaders still acting as individual producers are solely working in the system. Interestingly, some leaders stay working in the system to find validation and see tangible results from their efforts. This sometimes happens when their own leaders aren’t engaged or providing them with any feedback.

If you want to develop empowerment, buy-in, and skills for the future, you have to work on the system. That means focusing on long-term strategy, ensuring the right people are in the right roles, and clarifying the vision for the future.

Again, we work both ways; but asking yourself when can be invaluable for both you and your team. It’s a delicate balance, and great leaders constantly assess where they’re spending their time.

This mental check has helped me move out of my do-it-for-them micromanagement tendencies. I ask myself continually, “Am I in, or am I on?” Sometimes I’m in: focusing on quality, immediate results. Working on the system is tougher. It forces me to think longer term. Am I delegating strategically so that I have enough time to build capacity for the future? What does six, twelve, eighteen months look like for the team and me? Am I developing strengths and confidences in myself and my team so we can all move up?

This practice will help you resist landing short-term gains at the expense of building long-term capability. By clarifying goals and delegating effectively, your team will know exactly what they need to do to win—and you should feel some much-needed relief from having to shoulder the burden on your own.

* * *

I always tried to have the approach that everyone on my team should be able to have my job in the future. Maybe they don’t want to or choose to, but that’s my goal: I’m growing future directors of learning and development.

Some managers might feel threatened by that mindset. I’m always training my team to succeed in their current roles, while also preparing them to take on the next one, and using delegation as a tool to do so.

You have a lot of big goals as a leader, and that can be a little bit scary. You might feel it’s all on your shoulders, but you can train everyone on your team to carry increasing weight.


* * *


By focusing on the right priorities, you can achieve amazing results; but with the wrong focus, you can take the ship down.

Can you answer these questions?

What are your team’s top three priorities?

What are your boss’s top three priorities?

How does your team contribute to your organization’s priorities? … and can everyone (anyone?) on your team answer these questions too?

Some leaders struggle to narrow their focus to a few key priorities. They try to do everything. Others, like me, have no problem focusing—but not always on the right thing. As a marketing leader, I was occasionally more invested in a strategy than my own boss was, and my intense focus became a source of frustration for him. No one ever accused me of lacking focus—but was I focused on the highest-leverage activities for the company?

Through this and other experiences, I learned to check if my priorities were aligned with my leader’s. That’s where my credibility really came from. When he saw me using my hard-earned influence to achieve his top priorities, I was unstoppable; but when I was off—by guessing, following a personal preference, or leading out without permission—I found myself at odds with him. That wasn’t where I wanted to be.

Don’t guess what your team should focus on. You can run with your strengths, take on projects you’re passionate about, and dream up interesting initiatives—as long as they align with the organization’s priorities. Make sure that your team is focused on what your boss wants to accomplish.

* * *

If you haven’t discussed your team’s goals with your leader, request a meeting: “Would you be willing to spend twenty minutes going over our team goals for the upcoming month/quarter/year?”

Make sure you understand the why behind the goals too. If you’re not bought in, your team certainly won’t be.


* * *

If you can’t meet with your manager, don’t use that as an excuse to not align your work with their priorities. I’m not able to meet with my boss as often as we’d like. So I’ve gotten into the habit of emailing him once a week with something like “Five things you may need to know.” I make it clear and to the point, always bulleted. Included are highlights of my team’s focus and decisions I’ve made that I need him to know about. Unless he responds otherwise, I charge forward. Nine times out of ten, he simply writes back, “Thanks.” That’s enough to make sure we’re aligned.

This process may work in your culture too. It allows you to stay connected to extremely busy leaders and keep them abreast of the most important things going on. This email update isn’t intended to replace a 1-on-1, but you might be surprised how it keeps you oriented toward your leader’s true north.


Limit your goals to the most important. If you have discretion about setting your goals (versus receiving them from your leader), involve your team in formulating them. Not only will they be doing the work, they’ll often have a perspective you (and other leaders) don’t.

You will likely have more great ideas than your team has the capacity to execute. A lot of leaders overestimate how many goals their team can pack into any given period, insisting everything is important. But humans are hardwired to do only a few things at a time with excellence. Ideally, your team should focus on no more than three important goals at a time.

Of course, this is easier said than done. You can’t walk around saying, “We’re only doing three things, sorry.” There’s a careful balance between keeping your boss happy with your team’s performance and keeping your team from burning out. When discussing your team’s priorities, consider having a transparent conversation with your manager about this balance. Any mature leader will understand this challenge, because they’ve been there as well.

If your boss hands down unrealistic or too many goals, push back on them respectfully. Consider saying, “I’m sorry, but I know that having so many competing goals is going to crush my people. We will work hard, but this isn’t setting our team up for success in the long term, and I’m concerned it might cause some to burn out and leave.” That’s a bold statement, and it may take a lot of courage to say it. You have to earn your way into that, with a reputation of saying yes to a lot of things in the past, stretching, and using your resourcefulness and initiative.

If your leader insists on keeping a dozen goals, ask if you can stagger them in a hierarchy of importance. Prioritize them so you can focus on two or three at a time.

Your goals must be specific and measurable. They usually contain a starting line, a finish line, and a deadline, which we express as: From X to Y by When.

For example:

Increase customer-satisfaction scores from 88 percent to 90 percent by January 31.

Reduce project timelines from 48 to 38 days by the end of the fiscal year.

Cut costs from $1.4 million to $1.2 million by the end of the quarter.


Setting Stretch Goals

Sometimes we set stretch goals that are great in theory, without clarifying what we can do to make them happen.

Based on the success of the corporate headquarters, our local office once instituted a goal that our sales teams spend ten hours a week meeting face-to-face with clients. We had never measured this on our team before, so we essentially went from 0 to 10.

It was a great goal statistically—but our team simply wasn’t ready yet, and it became demotivating because the bar was way too high. No one runs a marathon with one day’s notice. It would have been better if we had said (both to the corporate office and the team), “Hey, first quarter, let’s start with three hours per week and then …