Why and how to guide your direct reports to success

by | Oct 15, 2019 | Blog | 2 comments

Let’s talk about direct reports. If you’re a people manager, how often do you speak with your direct reports about their career plans?

Unless you’re actively coaching your staff members, I bet you a nickel that you reserve time once a year during performance reviews to talk about their future and that’s about it.

The ongoing trend for professional development is personal responsibility. Talent professionals and others in HR have trained us that we as individuals need to take charge of our career.

While that’s sensible advice, it shouldn’t absolve managers of their responsibility to their direct reports.

By virtue of their role, managers have an explicit duty both to guide and advise their direct reports as well as set them up for success. After all, each manager’s success depends on what they and their direct reports do to perform immediate tasks plus achieve their goals and commitments.

To say it another way, if you’re a manager, your direct reports’ successes – or failures or something in-between – are a reflection on you.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m surprised about the many disconnects I hear from managers and employees, especially those who work remotely.

For example, many managers I coach gravitate toward talking about everything but their direct reports. And individual contributors I coach plus mentor – both informally and formally – express concerns that their manager seems to be absent or absent-minded when it comes to their professional development and career.

Yet, managers are in a unique, powerful, and accountable position to support their direct reports with their future plans on an ongoing basis.

For example, managers can take these three actions to help their direct reports improve key skills for preparing them for their next career move.

  • Asking for help with meetings. Recruit your direct reports to take turns conducting your staff meetings. It’s a great, low risk way to give them more experiences leading meetings. You also can ask them to accompany you to meetings and help deliver presentations. These actions lessen your load while also giving you opportunities to watch your direct reports in action. And your direct reports have more opporunities to improve in their current role.
  • Making introductions. Suggest individuals whom your direct reports can meet outside of your chain of command and then make warm introductions. This gives your staff members more visibility in the organization and helps them build broader, deeper relationships as well as become more knowledgeable. Your staff members can use their new information and relationships in their current job plus build better-formed ideas about roles they might want to move into in the future.
  • Doing monthly check-ins. Make an effort to ask your direct reports at least once a month how they’re doing, especially navigating the organization to meet more people, learning more about the organization, and having new experiences. This is especially important for female employees, employees of color, and remote employees who may find their overtures deterred or even blocked. For example, be aware that some men use the #metoo movement as an excuse to avoid meeting one-on-one with their female colleagues, including having mentoring conversations or dining together. (Check out the key findings from the Working Relationships in the #MeToo Era survey that SurveyMonkey and LeanIn.org conducted earlier in 2019.)

As a manager, you also can decide to move in a new direction and choose to serve as a leader/coach for your direct reports. Done well, coaching your team can be a rewarding experience with a payoff that’s well worth the time and effort for you and your direct reports. And even better, your direct reports will assume the heavy lifting. For more on this topic, read my recent Forbes article Coaching Your Team Shouldn’t Be Hard Work.

Whether you prefer to be a leader/coach or a traditional manager, if you have direct reports you have a responsibility for them. Even when they’re out of sight, your direct reports still need to be on your mind.


  1. Paulo Ariel

    How to be consistent and practical in a vuca world? Ask Liz. Thank you for the helping hand.

  2. Liz Guthridge

    You’re welcome, Paulo!

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