One-to-ones as a coaching tool for CEOs

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One of the key roles of the CEO is that of coach, teacher and mentor. By performing this role well, a CEO can instil a culture of learning throughout all levels of the organisation, and can impart the big picture perspective that their direct reports don’t have.

Among the coaching tools at the disposal of the CEO, one of the best is consistent, structured one to ones: high-level conversations in which the CEO and their direct reports can address the long-term strategic issues facing the company and the developmental issues of the management team.

If you are a CEO, one-to-ones with your direct reports will allow you to:

• achieve better alignment in respect of the vision, mission and goals of the company

• gain a clearer picture of how your direct reports think and solve problems

• provide quality time for coaching and mentoring – essential activities for building your management team

• model the behaviour you want your direct reports to use with their people.

An equally important aspect of one-to-ones is that they provide much-needed recognition for direct reports. When you give them your time and undivided attention, you are letting them know that you consider them valuable players on your team.

Coaching skills for one-to-ones

Your one-to-one coaching will be effective if you possess the following basic communication skills:

Empathy. Strive to see the world through the other person’s eyes. In reality, you can never see the world exactly as someone else does. However, making the attempt will dramatically change the interaction in a positive manner.

Respect. Be slow to understand, so that you can get at the real issue and show the other person the respect they deserve.

Exploration. Avoid easy, quick answers and stay in diagnostic mode throughout the one-to-one. Ask plenty of open-ended questions.

Flexibility. Everyone has a natural style of communicating. Learn to go beyond your natural style and do what is needed in the situation.

It also helps to know your non-verbal style, including its strengths and limitations, so that you can become more flexible in your interpersonal interactions. Non-verbal communication plays a vital role in your ability to influence others.

The skills described above are the basic essentials for productive one-to-ones with your direct reports. But there are a few secrets to getting the very best results from these sessions, and I’ll be covering these in my next post.

About Terry Irwin

About Terry Irwin


Terry Irwin is the founder and CEO of TCii Strategic and Management Consultants. Born and brought up in Wales, he studied Economics and Marketing at university, followed by an MBA.

Before setting up TCii, Terry spent over 20 years in the corporate world with GSK and Henkel, managing consumer goods and services businesses, living in 14 different countries and working in 30 in Europe, North America, Asia and the Russian Federation. He has also served as a UK Director of Carphone Warehouse and as a Non-Executive Director of Holt Lloyd.

Terry has consulted for a wide range of businesses, from multinationals to start-ups and growing organisations. He has a “hands on” approach and stays involved with client projects through to the achievement of agreed results.

His areas of expertise include:


·         FMCG/services/telecoms

·         Business and strategic planning and implementation

·         Business turnaround, outsourcing and cost reduction

·         Acquisitions, mergers and post-acquisition integration

·         International trade and distribution

·         Venture capital

·         Exit strategy

·         Organisational development

·         Succession planning

·         Board-level executive coaching

·         Sourcing key people – both executive and non-executive – for clients.





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