Top 5 One-on-One Meeting Mistakes That Leaders Make

24th May, 2024

One-on-one meetings are a cornerstone of our three pillars of confident leadership: developing character, building competence, and creating connection. There are top 5 one-on-one meeting mistakes that can significantly impact the effectiveness of these critical interactions. Whether someone is new to leadership or looking to refine their skills, understanding these mistakes can help transform one-on-one meetings into powerful tools for development and connection. Let’s dive in and discover how to make one-on-one meetings more effective and meaningful.


woman looking at workmate talking during one-on-one meeting


Mistake #1: Canceling or Rescheduling

Actions speak louder than words. When you cancel or reschedule, your actions are saying, “I’ve got more important things to do than spend time with you.” One of the most critical things you can do for your employees is to make them feel valued. Canceling or rescheduling their one-on-one time with you sends the opposite message—it makes them feel unimportant.

Of course, there are exceptions where it’s absolutely okay to cancel or reschedule, such as emergency situations. If you’re a leader and your boss calls for an impromptu meeting, it’s not a good excuse to cancel or reschedule. Politely let your boss know you have a scheduled one-on-one and that you can attend to their request afterward. Given that a performance one-on-one should only take about 15 to 20 minutes, your boss shouldn’t have an issue. And if they do, it might indicate they don’t value you as much as you’d like.


Mistake #2: ‘Conversation’ Creep

One of the biggest complaints about one-on-one performance meetings is that they take too long. Imagine a system implementation project, which is a classic example of scope creep. When additional changes get added beyond the original plan, it delays the project. Similarly, in a one-on-one performance meeting, the conversation should stay focused on the employee’s performance. 

Occasionally, you might choose to broaden the conversation deliberately, and that’s okay. It means you’re still in control and making a conscious choice. But keep in mind this meeting should focus solely on performance and the three key questions. To keep your meetings on track, use a simple three-question structure: What have you achieved in the last seven days? What are you focused on achieving in the next seven days? And what support do you need? Sticking to these questions helps minimize conversation creep, keeping your meeting to 15 to 20 minutes. 


Mistake #3: Too Much Talking

One common mistake that often occurs in one-on-one meetings is when the person leading the meeting talks too much. When one person dominates the conversation, they miss out on valuable insights. This includes understanding the other person’s performance, what motivates them, and any innovative ideas they may have. The aim is to engage with the other person, understand their challenges and accomplishments, and offer guidance to help them succeed in their role.

Remember that these meetings are meant to be conversations, not monologues. A general guideline in one-on-one meetings is that the leader speaks 20% of the time, and the other person speaks 80%. This approach encourages asking questions that foster a commitment to achieving performance goals. It also ensures the other person feels heard and valued, which can significantly boost their engagement and performance.


Mistake #4: Not Following Up

You’ve probably heard the sales adage, “The fortune is in the follow-up,” and it holds true for performance meetings as well. So, what exactly should you follow up on? In a structured meeting approach like the three-question framework, the first question, “What have you achieved in the last seven days?” acts as a prompt for follow-up. 

Ensure you follow through on the agreed actions within the week. Setting up a simple tracking system, such as sending an email summary after the meeting, can streamline this process. Additionally, a small yet impactful step that many leaders overlook is a brief midweek check-in with your employee. A quick two-minute phone call can make a significant difference.

Ask two straightforward questions:

  • Are you on track to complete your key actions for the week?
  • Do you need any assistance from me to ensure your key actions are completed?


Mistake #5: Avoiding Difficult Conversations

Dealing with small issues early is much better than letting them escalate. It’s tough to address performance issues or behavioral concerns, but it does become easier with practice. As they say, everything is hard before it becomes easy. Avoiding these talks almost always leads to bigger problems later on. It hinders your employees’ growth and can impact the entire team’s performance.

When you do have those tough talks, empathy is key. Share clear examples and focus on finding solutions together rather than placing blame. This not only shows your strong leadership but also proves your commitment to your team’s success and development. Remember, competence includes emotional intelligence and the ability to navigate sensitive situations respectfully. 


Avoiding One-on-One Meeting Mistakes

The five mistakes listed here aren’t ranked by importance or frequency but are laid out to help you address them systematically. Start by focusing on not canceling or rescheduling your one-on-one meetings. Once you’ve established a good routine, move on to tackling conversation creep. Take it step by step, improving gradually until you feel confident to move to the next challenge. Of course, if there’s a difficult conversation you need to have, don’t delay it. Use the strategies discussed in this episode and take action when necessary.

Keep in mind that improvement isn’t always straightforward and there may be ups and downs along the way. Remember that leadership is a journey of continuous improvement. Be intentional about your growth and development starting today.

If you’re interested in mastering one-on-one meetings to enhance employee performance, consider joining our waitlist for the Master One-on-One Meetings program. Sign up at to be among the first notified when the doors open. You’ll gain valuable insights and strategies to maximize your team’s potential.

Listen to the full podcast episode here: Top 5 One-on-One Meeting Mistakes That Leaders Make.


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