Blog Your Direct Reports

By Hugh Stewart

Business owners sometimes struggle to communicate effectively with their direct reports. If you are fully engaged when communicating with direct reports, the information you receive will be better and clearer. Being fully engaged means giving the direct report space and time to communicate with you. Do not rush them.

It is very important when having a conversation with a direct report to make the time to listen, and if you are too pressed for time, reschedule. Part of your job as a leader is to have perspective, and if that perspective is compromised because you are too busy, then you cannot create a safe environment in which valuable information will flow.

When meeting with direct reports, make sure to have an outcome in mind. As you engage that direct report, know what you want to get accomplished with the communication. Often people waste time not knowing why they are meeting. Before engaging someone in a conversation, set the expectations:

  • How long is this conversation going to last?
  • What does a successful conversation look like when it’s over?
  • When the conversation is over, what things should I want to know, or be able to have worked on for us to feel like this was successful?

If you can set some of these expectations ahead of time, it will provide focus and efficiency to communication.

Recognize that direct reports represent your capacity to be intelligent in your organization; it is your responsibility to them and the organization to listen effectively and communicate intelligently.

Actively suspend the assumption that you know everything and listen to them without interrupting. Even if they say things that are controversial or anger you, your job is to take in information and respond intelligently — which often involves a lot of controlled breathing. Listen actively, suspend your own thoughts and reactions to the information and let them express themselves. This will be vastly powerful. By doing this, you will learn things about your business that you would not have learned from your perspective as a boss. As a leader, you can create an environment where it is safe for information to flow.

Part of your responsibility as an entrepreneurial leader is to provide context and help direct reports feel validated for sharing with you. For example, if an employee speaks to you about a customer issue, instead of getting upset about how the issue was handled (if you disagree with the method of resolution), show the employee that he or she was correct to have brought the situation to your attention. Explain that, by being informed, you can now work together to get the issues resolved — now, and in the future. By doing this, your employees will feel empowered to take care of more problems on their own in the future.

Communicating effectively with direct reports will require you to:

  • create the space for them to feel comfortable speaking to you,
  • to pay attention and listen,
  • to engage them positively, and
  • to provide feedback and fulfill all the expectations set forth in the beginning of the conversation.

They will walk away with a sense of completeness and wholeness, and you walk away with a sense of completeness and wholeness. Your direct reports will want to come back to you to share really great information that allows you to have even more intelligent interaction with your business.

Hugh Stewart, founder and CEO of Confident Solutions Coach, has both a substantial education background and diverse entrepreneurial background. Stewart was not only a nuclear fuel designer, but he has created and operated more than 17 businesses in the past 10 years in industries such as money services, real estate, advertising, reinsurance consulting, and coaching.

Stewart seeks to help business owners who are struggling or simply wish to move their business to the next level. You can reach him at, or sign up for a free business consultation here
Originally published: Jan 16, 2012

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