One-on-One Leadership

October 17, 2019 Ken Blanchard

It’s hard to overstate how beneficial good managers are for an organization—or how damaging bad managers can be. Year after year, the number one reason employees leave or underperform is because they have poor relationships with their managers.

How, then, do the best leaders manage their direct reports? They develop a productive partnership with their employees through skilled, one-on-one leadership.

At its best, leadership involves mutual trust between two people who work together to achieve common goals. Both leader and follower influence each other. Leadership shifts between them, depending on the task and who has the competence and commitment to deal with it. Both parties play a role in determining how things get done.

One-on-one leadership is about creating such side-by-side leadership relationships. It is a process for increasing the quality and quantity of conversations between managers and direct reports. These alignment conversations not only help people perform better, but they also help everyone involved feel better about themselves and each other.

Three Steps to One-on-One Leadership

When one-on-one leadership is done well, it becomes an integral part of an effective performance management system. This system consists of three parts:

  1. Performance Planning. After everyone is clear on the organizational vision and direction, it’s during performance planning that leaders agree with their direct reports about the goals and objectives they should be focusing on. At this stage the traditional hierarchal pyramid is effective as the leader provides vision and direction.
  2. Performance Coaching. Next, the hierarchal pyramid is turned upside-down as leaders support people in accomplishing the goals, doing everything they can to help direct reports be successful. At this stage, managers work for their people, praising progress and redirecting less than optimal performance.
  3. Performance Review. This is where a manager and direct report sit down and assess the direct report’s performance over time. When one-on-one meetings are scheduled, open and honest discussions about the direct report’s performance and concerns take place on an ongoing basis, creating mutual understanding and agreement.

So how do you close the gap between learning about one-on-one leadership and really doing it? A key strategy is to schedule regular one-on-one meetings. These meetings can be brief—15 to 30 minutes—but should be held at least once every two weeks.

The manager is responsible for scheduling the meeting, but the direct report sets the agenda. This is when people can talk to their managers about anything on their hearts and minds—it’s their meeting.

The purpose of one-on-ones is for managers and direct reports to get to know each other as human beings. In the old days, most businesspeople had a traditional military attitude that said, “Don’t get close to your direct reports. You can’t make hard decisions if you have an emotional attachment to your people.”

Yet rival organizations will come after your best people,

so knowing and caring for them is a competitive edge.


Too often, talented people report that their executive recruiter knows and cares more about their hopes and dreams than their manager does. Don’t let this be said about you. Use one-on-one meetings to build genuine relationships with your direct reports.

To increase productivity and job satisfaction for frontline people, consider investing in one-on-one leadership training. It’s a skill set that can and should be taught to every manager.

Want to learn more about bringing out the best in people? Download the free 60-page summary of Leading at a Higher Level.  It’s available for free on The Ken Blanchard Companies website.  Use this link to access the summary.

About the Author

Ken Blanchard

Dr. Ken Blanchard is the cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of Blanchard®, an international management training and consulting firm. Ken is the coauthor of The One Minute Manager, as well as 65 other books with combined sales totaling more than 21 million copies.

More Content by Ken Blanchard
Previous Resource
Do You Have a “Bossy Pants” on Your Team? Ask Madeleine
Do You Have a “Bossy Pants” on Your Team? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine, I manage a team at a small non-profit. One of my newer team members is constantly managing ...

Next Resource
Recent Hire Uses Excessive Filler Words Like, Um, “You Know”? Ask Madeleine
Recent Hire Uses Excessive Filler Words Like, Um, “You Know”? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine, I supervise a number of educational professionals who are required to report to a team (inc...