As an executive, how do you find time to get to know your team members enough to understand their strengths, interests, and potential?

5.1k views33 Upvotes37 Comments

Managing Partner, Partnerships & Strategy in Software, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
A leader’s most important role is to build other leaders around them. To do this, you’ve got to make it the priority, build the time into your calendar and protect that time. When we get busy and take on more responsibility or grow our teams, this becomes easier said than done, that’s the reason having a strong “why” is critical. 

Leadership development is one of those “big rocks”. So, when I plan my week, that’s one of the first things I allocate time to. This area of leadership is so important because making the investment in your team members today will pay dividends tomorrow. It’s kind of like saving. When you get your paycheck, pay yourself first; that is, put away your savings/investments first, then deal with your expenses according to your budget. That’s oversimplifying it but you get the gist. 

Leadership development doesn’t have to be formal. It can be a weekly meeting or a more casual engagement, whatever works for the both of you, as long as you are conscious of making that effort and are consistent.
Director of Value Realization and COE Programs in Software, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
Schedule and Keep 1-1s with them.
Talk about things other than work.
Ask them about their 5 year plan.
Give them a project with only the expected outcome. Let them figure out how to get there.
Executive Director of IT Engineering Delivery in Healthcare and Biotech, 10,001+ employees
Many leaders use the cliche of the "open door policy," to superficially check the box for meaningful discourse opportunities and learning about their team members, but it has to go beyond that. I've seen instances of leaders at all level claim that, but put up a persona where meaningful dialogue is clearly not embraced. Examples include not looking up from their keyboards during sessions, continually looking at their phones, restricted schedules, or even provided the bare minimum of time to interact. This carries the opposite effect, being a disincentive or even morale killer moving forward.

I'm a big proponent of Raven and French's five types of power and adhere to the fact that my position as a leader (legitimate power) with the ability to reward or punish (reward power and coercion power) are the weakest forms of power. Referent power is to show the humanity that people need in the workplace. From a simple practice of greeting people in the hallways to taking the time to learning what they are doing professionally as well as personal interests, engagement starts with providing this openness to reaching out. This combined with cultivating experiential knowledge (expert power), will convey a welcoming tone.

As for the how in finding time, you have to carve out time. Period. I engage in one on one  coffee talks with all levels of my organization, from interns to senior leaders. Admittedly, some weeks are easier to schedule than others, but even that informal 30 minutes goes a long way. Hitting bigger numbers, the creation of new talent cohorts allows greater exposure and even some fun. We are in the process of planning "Fail Fast Failure Fest" for our associate cohort. Think of this as an an open mic session for leaders to tell of their previous failures and what they learned from it. Imposter syndrome and fear of failure is so prevalent in associate level talent that showing this vulnerability will go a long way in making them feel more at ease.

A additional method I employed was a weekly journal to my staff (I have the benefit of a MA in Writing and a love for it) addressing any topics that came up during the week as well as relevant anecdotes from my past, articles worth sharing, and sometimes just a bit of silliness. This was another way to open the door and you'd be surprised at how many people replied to these journals with great engagement and insight to their triumphs and struggles.

There is no one right way, but carving up your schedule, blocking time well in advance, will help make yourself available moving the open door policy from cliche to operating model.
7 4 Replies
Director in Manufacturing, 1,001 - 5,000 employees

100% correct!

Senior Director Engineering in Travel and Hospitality, 10,001+ employees

So True! 

Director of Network Transformation, Self-employed

Solid post!  "From a simple practice of greeting people in the hallways to taking the time to learning what they are doing professionally as well as personal interests, engagement starts with providing this openness to reaching out."  Powerful Leadership example!

Director of IT in Energy and Utilities, 10,001+ employees
Built on top of a consistent, weekly 1:1 cadence (which includes periodically getting into the lower-level details of their work to collaborate and assist them), I believe it is important to have a Career Conversation at least annually (better to do it twice a year). 

In that Career Conversation, I would ask these questions about what they are enjoying, finding challenging, etc.  But, also I would seek to understand their career aspirations and talk through possible next steps. 

Finally, I find that some people simply do not know what they want to do in the future - but that's no reason to shut down the discussion.  Rather, I've found it very constructive to lead them in a brainstorming exercise with the intent to draw it out - focusing on their current and previous roles and what they like or didn't like about the type of work, etc.  In the end I've almost always found that together we can bring to the surface a direction and a way to grow and be challenged.
CMO in Software, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
My top priority is my team and ensuring I'm giving them what they need to be successful. But, more often than not, it's offering my time. Here are some ways I make this happen:


Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each team member to discuss their work, goals, and interests. These meetings are my top priority and are not be canceled or rescheduled unless absolutely necessary.

Hold team events such as lunches, coffee chats, happy hours, or team-building activities in person or over Zoom. This is an excellent opportunity to get to know my team in a more relaxed and informal setting, ultimately improving overall trust.

Take a few minutes several days a week to check in informally with team members via Zoom or Teams to see how they are and how I can help.  This has significantly improved my relationship with my team and my understanding of what they need.

Ask my team questions about their work, interests, and goals. The key is actively listening to their responses, which shows a genuine interest in what they have to say.

I have to remind myself this is an ongoing process. Make it a priority and find ways to integrate it into your daily routine. By understanding your team member's strengths, interests, and potential, you can build a stronger team and help achieve your organization's goals.
CIO in Transportation, 501 - 1,000 employees
If you are not having regular 1-1's with your directs... do that!  This is time to discuss everything from personal lives, to career, to project status updates, to their leadership challenges.  This helps you create the relationship you need to have a good open line of communication.

If you have a large organization, schedule 2 downs once per year... where you meet individually with everyone who reports to your directs.  Plan for this to take most of the year to complete.  If you have a smaller organization then you should meet with everyone.

I like to have a standard set of questions that I send out to people a week or 2 in advance.  This let's them prepare their thoughts before meeting with you.  I change the questions each year.  I included my questions for this year below.  I call this a stay interview... I want to know what makes you stay and want to stay here.

Be present during these meetings.  Do not look at your phone.  Some people will come in very prepared, some will not (that gives you a lot of information right there).  These meetings are invaluable to provide you knowledge and create a culture of trust and openness.

Be vulnerable, and do not get defensive about anything.  Your greatest accomplishment is if one of your 2 downs is comfortable enough to come in and tell you they think you need to improve at something.  When that happens in a positive, constructive manner, you know you have created a great culture.

Dave’s 2 down / stay interview questions


1.     Where are we going?

·         I want to make sure we are on the same page regarding company and department goals


2.     Where are you going, with regards to your responsibilities and career goals?

·         I want to make sure I understand what the goals are for your career and future


3.     What is going well?

·         My thoughts and your thoughts on what we are doing well


4.     Where can we improve?

·         I want to know what you think could be better


5.     How can I help you?

·         I want to know how I can help you achieve your goals


6.     What blind spots do I need to know about

·        Are there things going on I should know about but do not

CIO in Construction, 201 - 500 employees
Simply schedule the time. Easy to do. Easy not to do.
VP of Sales in Software, 10,001+ employees
Spend the time, it’s all about people
CTO in Software, 51 - 200 employees
It’s the hardest task. My strategy depends on the situation, during the year I:

- work together in a project or problem to solve
- schedule 1-1 meeting
- attend together at a conference
- write together a blog post/article
- run a workshop for brainstorming a new idea
- coach/mentor the team during a review or retrospective
- wake up in the night and solve together an issue in production
- play a fifa or ping-pong game
- just take a coffee together
CTO in Healthcare and Biotech, 11 - 50 employees
Your priority shall be to make time. It is not when a project arises that you must do it. Or when you have spare time. It is something that begins as soon as each person is being hired while doing the interviews or if you know the team while being employees, then on the 1:1s.

Let’s put it this way. Wouldn’t your leader to get to know you better? Your strengths? Your weaknesses? Interests and more? If your leader doesn’t get to you, you go to your leader and let know of who you are.

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CTO in Software, 201 - 500 employees
Without a doubt - Technical Debt! It's a ball and chain that creates an ever increasing drag on any organization, stifles innovation, and prevents transformation.
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