A Simple Way to Dramatically Improve Your Leadership

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When I was young, my father told me, "90% of success in life comes from just showing up." I think about that when trying to learn Chinese. I'm always searching for the best method or the best smart phone application. But recently a Chinese colleague told me, "If you just study for 30 minutes every day, you'll learn Chinese." He's right. I need to forget the perfect solution; I just need to show up -- every day.

Today, the world is filled with leadership theories, tools and training classes. Enter "leadership" in the books section of Amazon.com and 95,000 books show up -- each one with a different theory. But for many managers, these provide little value; because many managers just don't show up.

I once spoke to a private banking manager at a large South American bank. I asked him about his job. He proudly told me about his customers -- 14 of them. Curiously, that was about the same number that each of his direct reports supported. Then he told me about how he spends his time each week -- working with current customers and searching for new ones. But, what he did not say was most important. He did not talk about managing people.

This is not an unusual example. It happens when the best engineers are promoted to managers. They continue doing what makes them feel proud -- engineering. Or, there is the sales manager who is too busy "serving the customer" to develop direct report sales skills or sales team teamwork. Is it a sales manager's duty to personally serve customers or is his duty to build a team that serves customers? Too many managers just don't show up.

What Is the Duty of a Manager?

As a manager, you are given resources -- people and a budget. Your primary duty is use those resources to build a highly effective organization. Think of your organization as an engine. You must build the most powerful and reliable engine with your resources.

At IBM, one of my duties was to assess leadership skills of high potentials -- the top 0.01%. One of the interview questions was, "If, right now, you left IBM, what would happen to your organization?" The correct answer was, "Nothing. My team does not need me." Outstanding managers build outstanding engines. A manager's greatest achievement should be the power and reliability of his organization.

A Simple Way to Dramatically Improve Your Leadership

For many managers, improving leadership is very easy. Just show up.

Schedule a one-on-one meeting with each direct report every two weeks. If a manager says he is too busy serving the customer or attending meetings to spend two hours a month with each direct report, then he is not a manager; he is an individual contributor.

The one-on-one meeting is ideally scheduled for one hour at the same time each week. The agenda is owned by the subordinate. There should be no preparation work for the manager. Typically, the subordinate will present his plans, describe progress-to-date, and ask for specific manager support. The manager listens deeply and commits his support. Remember, this is not a performance review -- do not make judgments. As a manager, your objective is to help your subordinate succeed in his role.

The biggest value of one-on-ones may not be the meeting itself. It's like studying for a test in school. Sure, you study all semester, but before tests, your studying is many times more productive. The same is true when using one-on-ones. Subordinates will focus themselves for the Friday quiz. One-on-ones increase productivity.

Being a great leader does not have to be so difficult. For now, forget the leadership books and theories. Your first step is to just show up.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Hall is managing director of Human Capital Systems (www.humancapitalsystems.com), a firm that designs systems for improving workforce performance. He is also an instructor in Duke Corporate Education's teaching network and author of The New Human Capital Strategy. Hall was formerly a senior vice president at ABN AMRO Bank in Amsterdam and IBM Asia-Pacific's executive in charge of executive leadership and organization effectiveness. During his tenure, IBM was twice ranked No. 1 in the world in Hewitt/Chief Executive magazine's "Top Company for Leaders." Hall completed his Ph.D in industrial-organizational psychology at Tulane University, with a dissertation on people management practices of Japanese corporations.

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