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Resolve to Be a Better Leader in 2017

It’s that time of year. A time for new beginnings. A time for renewal and resolution. Like many, you may be feeling inspired and committed to a set of New Year’s Resolutions. But have you committed to any that will help you be a better leader in 2017?

Maybe you’re not sure where to start, what leadership resolutions to choose. John Farmer, one of our engineers, and I developed a list of “Leadership New Year Resolutions” to help you start thinking about this. We recommend picking one, at most two, and truly resolving to do it better.

We’ve organized these resolutions around the 3 core responsibilities of a manager:

  1. Giving and receiving feedback
  2. Building a high-performing team

Which are both in service of:

  1. Driving better results

Feedback Resolutions

1. Listen more and be comfortable with silence

Have you ever counted how many ears you have and compared that to the number of mouths you have? For most people that is a 2:1 ratio – twice as many ears as mouths.

When you talk, you only repeat what you already know, but if you listen you may learn something new.

(Dalai Lama, big hitter.)

Resolve to listen more so that you can truly hear and learn more from the people on your team. Here’s an Andy Grove inspired process for soliciting their feedback. You must adjust your mindset and truly believe that the people on your team have a lot to teach you, and then you must listen!

2. Embark on a listening tour

It’s not just the people on your team that can teach you a lot. You probably work closely with peers as well, those who share your boss or cross-functional collaborators. Have you heard from them recently?
Resolve to ask ten peers how you can improve. Buckle up. I recommend specifically steering clear of “what am I doing well?” and just ask the question, “what can my team or I do better?” Remember to truly listen.

And here’s the trick – Don’t get mad, get curious. Understand going in that you might hear some difficult-to-hear things. That’s GREAT! Would you rather have those things whispered behind your back or show up suddenly on a peer review? Or would you rather go out there and hear them face to face and get a chance to improve?


3. Give more praise

Too many managers do praise poorly, if they do it at all. Praise is not about making someone feel good. Praise’s purpose is to show people what success looks like, what to do more of. Roanne Daniels at Bain Capital says beautifully, “Every time you praise someone you tell them what you value.”

Every time you praise someone you tell them what you value.

Resolve to give (approximately) 3 instances of praise for every instance of criticism. This will be easy once you form the habit. Think about this: you’re not walking around firing everyone on your team, which means they’re doing an awful lot more well than not. Take the time to see and immediately communicate those good things in 1-3 minute, informal conversations.

4. Ask your employees how happy and productive they feel at the end of each week

One of the great services you can provide to your employees is being a blocker eliminator. Sometimes your folks experience real blockers and sometimes they perceive blockers. In both cases, it will be hard for you to be helpful if you don’t know how the person is currently feeling.

Resolve to ask, “how productive were you this week?” to uncover and discuss blockers. Also ask, “how happy are you?” to understand the things either frustrating or enriching your team members. This will give you a chance to go all Darth-Vader-in-Rogue-One on those frustrating items and the opportunity to double down on those sources of happiness.


Resolutions for Building a Stronger Team

1. Let your directs fully own the agenda for your 1:1s

Not long ago, we posted an article about holding effective 1:1s. The idea that your employee owns the agenda is a simple, symbolic practice that helps them feel ownership and autonomy for their work and their time.

Resolve to give your employees this responsibility, as a way of saying, “You tell me what’s important.” Of course, you can coach and guide them over time to help refine their thinking about what’s important. Remember that Steve Jobs said “we hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around.”

2. Understand your employees’ long term career aspirations

Part of your job as a manager is to help your employees grow. Have you ever asked yourself the question, though, “grow into what?” How can you hope to offer a shred of relevant career advice to your people if you don’t understand their dreams?

Resolve to ask your employees, “What do you see yourself doing at the pinnacle of your career – when you are happy, challenged and not longing for anything else?” And then listen. And listen. Ask clarifying questions. Push for a few dreams, not just one. Do not accept incremental steps that don’t sound like dreams. ONLY AFTER you understand their dreams – blurry, foggy versions of the dream – use three questions to bring them into focus. What’s the role? What’s the industry? What’s the size of company? Write these vision statements down. They’re gold.


Check out this video for a bit more on helping your employees grow.

Resolutions for Achieving Results

1. Delegate decision making

Your team will execute better and faster if you devolve decision-making responsibility deeper into your organization. You’re probably less likely to do as good a job as the people closest to the facts. Also, every time you make decisions for your team, realize you are robbing your employees of a chance for both growth and visibility. Finally, you can never scale as a manager if you continue to act like an individual contributor. Let it go. They will deliver.

Resolve to delegate more important stuff to your team. Focus more on what, not how, by making sure that your team has clear, measurable goals each quarter. Push decisions “into the facts”– explicitly identify who the decider is for key decisions, and make sure that person has what they need to decide.

2. Tighten up your meetings

The more time you and your team spend in ineffective meetings, the less time you spend on achieving important results. Ever felt like a meeting had way too many people in it, or that it was taking much longer than it needed to? Ever been a part of a meeting where half the room is trying to make a decision and half the room is just debating? These situations are a huge waste of time and a source of frustration for everyone.

Resolve to publish an agenda for your meetings. (Google Spreadsheets is great for this) Make it clear exactly what the objective is for each agenda item. You might use these objectives:

  • Relate = pass on information, ie “there will be fire drill today at 1:30PM”
  • Solve = brainstorming and problem solving. Debate lives here.
  • Decide = make a decision.

Clarifying the objective of an agenda item helps all attendees know what you’re trying to get done and can help identify who needs to attend. You can also set a time limit for each agenda item. Meetings should only take the time that they need – if a meeting is scheduled for 60 minutes and you are done in 45, CELEBRATE the fact that everyone gets back 15 minutes.


The Gimme/Candor-plug Resolution

Of course, we all know that resolutions often only last about six weeks into the year. It’s hard to change your behavior. And we want to help you continue your commitment to being a better leader throughout the year.

Resolve to listen to the Radical Candor podcast for weekly leadership lessons, inspiration and tips. Subscribe in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or sign up here to get email notifications.

Also resolve to read Candor’s monthly newsletter for more stories and advice. Subscribe here.


Which of these resolutions will you commit to in 2017? Do you have other leadership resolutions? Tell us about them in the comments below, or reach out on Twitter or Facebook. We’d love to hear from you!

How to Have Effective 1:1s

There are a lot of ways to think about holding one-on-one meetings (1:1s) with the people on your teams. Heck, here at Candor, Inc. we don’t even fully agree on one exact prescription. We have a few tips below for thinking about how to have effective 1:1s.

Have them

Have regular 1:1s.

I have to start at the beginning here, because it’s simply not the case that all managers are holding regular 1:1s. This is a cardinal sin. 1:1s are quiet, focused collaboration time for employees and bosses to connect. It’s also the most important chance for you to hear from your employee, and it’s their time, not yours. As a senior or junior manager, you must create the space for this.

I’ve historically held my 1:1s for 1 hour every week, and had a high bar for canceling or rescheduling. Currently, Elisse – our outstanding Marketing Director – and I have our 1:1 every other week for an hour. The reason for bi-weekly versus weekly is that we work very closely together – literally a couple feet from each other – all day every day, and we just don’t need to carve out that formal time every single week. But, if Elisse wanted the 1:1 to be an hour every week, I would respect that request, and adjust my schedule to accommodate her needs, no questions asked.

Be on time.

The 1:1 is really not your time, Ms. Manager… it’s their time. Being late is disrespectful. Constantly prioritizing “something else” – email, other meetings, etc. suggests that this particular 1:1 meeting is not as important to you as these other things. Remember, as a manager, in many ways, you represent the company to the employee. Think about the message that you and the company are sending to someone that their time is not that important to you. How do you think this will affect their engagement? (hint: not well)

Change the setting here and there.

Occasionally, go for a walk and have your 1:1. Occasionally, go get coffee. Go sit in the courtyard. Get lunch or breakfast or dinner. Most often, it’s probably easiest and most efficient to grab or schedule a room and get right into it. Every once in awhile, though, offer to change the setting. Think of it as a chance to interact with your team member more as a human being than as just the stodgy old boss.

It’s OK to cancel.

“If there’s nothing to discuss, it’s ok to cancel. People, too often, view 1:1s as mandatory, but it’s refreshing when you both acknowledge that things are ok for now, or the time may be better spent other ways… and you can do this as long as you both agree not to take a request to cancel personally.” – Ben Saitz, Chief Customer Officer at RocketFuel. Cancel occasionally, when you both agree, but beware not to do this regularly. See Have Them above.

Two Ears, One Mouth

They own the agenda… mostly

There is a reason you were given two ears to hear and one mouth to speak. You learn a heck of a lot more listening than talking. Use this as your guide to having an effective 1:1.

I think it’s pretty important that your employee owns the agenda. You might set some guidelines for things that you request to be in the agenda. Then again, you might not. An example of something that you might request is a regular update on their OKRs, KPIs, etc., and maybe you’ll ask that they communicate any blockers that you might be able to help with. Not crazy.

But I think the idea that your employee owns the agenda is a simple, symbolic practice that helps them feel ownership and autonomy for their work and their time. You’re saying, “You tell me what’s important,” and of course you can coach and guide them to help refine over time what’s important. Remember that Steve Jobs said “we hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around.”

Have a Doc

I like the idea of using a Google Doc, or other shared doc, for a few reasons:

  1. A shared doc is easily accessible pretty much everywhere – across devices, even without a network connection if you choose the “Available offline” option.
  2. A shared doc is a great way to capture action items, what’s said, what’s decided, what’s due, etc. to help us remember these important things amid our busy-as-hell lives.
  3. A shared doc enables manager preparation – just because your employee is driving the agenda, doesn’t mean you need to be surprised! You could agree that the agenda is developed an hour or two in advance and take time to see what’s coming and prep.
  4. It allows you to keep a running archive of 1:1 content that could come in handy down the line for any number of reasons.

Three high leverage agenda items for your 1:1s

While the specific agenda items for a 1:1 should be set by your employee, it’s still ok to help structure the agenda to make the time as productive as possible. Many junior employees may be unsure as to what they should cover in the 1:1. Here are some topics to consider working into your 1:1s:


While I don’t recommend using a 1:1 for simple work status updates (those can easily be accomplished via email), it is entirely appropriate to include “Progress toward goals” as a standing agenda item in a 1:1. Your team member has quarterly goals – ie KPIs or OKRs – that are closely tied to the goals of the team and the company, and it’s very productive to understand the results that your team member is achieving. In the spirit, though, of allowing the employee to own the agenda, give him or her the autonomy to tee up the discussion and prioritize the specific items to cover. That week might be all good news, or maybe that week there’s a blocker that he she needs help with. Perhaps the employee just wants some advice on a problem they are working through. Be there to support them in the achievement of their goals and enable them to determine how you do that.

Career Development

We have developed a very robust Career Conversation methodology here (more on it in later posts). Once a Career Action Plan is developed, allow space in the 1:1 to talk about and follow up on action items. Making this a habit like brushing and flossing will mean that you are investing in your folks in a differentiated way. Kevin Sheridan says in his LinkedIn post about the Top 3 Reasons Employees Quit, “[Managers] do not regularly meet with their direct reports to discuss Career Development, Learning, and Promotion Opportunities.” Regular investment in growth and development helps everyone – helps your employee grow towards their dreams, helps the team and company improve, and it helps your relationship with your employee.

Feedback: Get It, Don’t Give it

The 1:1 is not the place for the manager to give feedback to the employee. That’s not a typo. Recall that we favor short bursts – a few minutes – of feedback given immediately after the specific situation or event.

Instead think about the 1:1 as a chance to get feedback from your employees. If you want to build a culture of feedback, the best place to start is here. Follow our steps to get people to open up and prove you can take and that you value tough feedback: ask your go-to question, stay silent until your employee has the chance to answer, listen with the intent to understand not to cross-examine, and then reward the candor.

My co-founder, Kim, uses another approach, which can substitute or complement the above. She asks her direct reports to structure their 1:1 agendas by answering these questions:

  1. What’s on your mind this week?
  2. How happy were you this past week?
  3. How productive were you this past week?
  4. What feedback do you have for me?

For the record, Ben, quoted above, also favors an open-ended question style for his 1:1s. Questions are a great way to help guide your employee’s thinking about the 1:1 agenda. But, I’ve found that when working with more senior employees, it also works well to leave it entirely up to them and trust that they’ll prioritize the appropriate agenda items.

So remember, supercharge your 1:1s with your employees by making sure you have them, using the time to listen and learn what is important to your employee, and giving your employee ownership of the agenda (with some guidance on key topics to cover).

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