The First Step Away from Undermanagement Is Making Management a Daily Habit

The only way to improve performance as a highly engaged manager is to have regular, ongoing, one-on-one conversations with your employees as a way of staying in good management shape.

If you were in poor physical shape, would you go for a 10-mile run? No. First, you might start training by taking a walk every day. After a few weeks, you might walk a little faster and longer. Over time, you start to jog, and eventually you become strong enough to run those 10 miles.

Effective managing is a lot like being in good physical shape: The hard part is getting in the habit of doing it every day no matter what obstacles come up. So stop letting yourself off the hook. Stay in touch with your true priorities. Make yourself do it every day, as if your health depended on it.

Start by setting aside one hour every day for managing. That one hour every day is just for staying in shape—just for taking a walk.

What if you don’t have much experience? You have to start somewhere.

What if you don’t enjoy managing people in a hands-on manner? You will have to do it anyway in order to be successful.

What if you don’t think you are skilled at managing? Practice, practice, practice until you become good at it.

What if it makes you uncomfortable? Live with the discomfort: The more you manage people, the more comfortable you will become.

New behaviors, no matter how good they are, often don’t feel comfortable until they become habits. It is likely you will feel the loss of your old comfortable habits, of your former role in the workplace, and of your current relationships with employees. The transition period will be somewhat difficult and painful. But if you do it right, it is good pain. Like exercise, it makes you stronger. After you’ve built more effective managing habits, you’ll still have to deal with unexpected problems, but they won’t be the kinds of problems that could have been avoided. And you’ll still have to face plenty of difficult challenges when managing people—the occasional 10-mile run. But you’ll be in such good shape that you’ll be able to handle it effectively with confidence and skill.

Yes, it will be difficult, but it works: guts, discipline, and one hour a day.

One-on-One Meetings vs. Team Meetings

In an ideal world, you would talk with every single person who calls you their boss, every single day—reviewing their work and setting them up for success. You would take that management walk every day with every person.

Of course, in the real world, there are many factors that make that impossible for most managers. As a result, some managers favor team meetings instead of regular one-on-one discussions, but team meetings are no substitute. When you meet with an employee, look him or her in the eye, talk about expectations, ask for an account of performance, review results, or provide feedback—there’s no place to hide. In a team meeting, however, it’s easy to hide – for both the manager and the employees.

Managers often feel more comfortable sharing difficult news or providing feedback to the whole team than talking directly to one person. The problem is, the difficult news or feedback often is aimed at only one or two people. So the rest of the team is confused and insulted. Meanwhile, the very people you are trying to manage in that team setting might not even realize you are talking to them!

It’s also a whole lot harder to tune in to each employee in a team meeting and focus on that person’s work in a way that will be meaningful and helpful. Often, team meetings feel pro forma and include lots of discussion about things that most of the people in the room don’t need to know and don’t care about. Meanwhile, details critical to one employee or another inevitably are omitted. Sometimes the best things to come out of a team meeting are the spontaneous one-on-one huddles that typically follow, because the meeting has made it clear they are necessary.

Team meetings do have a place in good management, of course. Just don’t fool yourself: The team meeting is a totally different animal from the one-on-one conversation. And the only way to improve performance as a highly engaged manager is to have those regular, ongoing, one-on-one conversations as a way of staying in shape.

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website,


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