The two easiest issues faced in leadership are communication and human resources. Does that comment surprise you?

I know it may seem counter-intuitive because it seems like leaders spend so much of their time on these issues.

Unlike issues such as bad marketing, poor technology, or the economy, these two factors are very much within the control of the leader.  But most of the time leaders make it harder than it needs to be.  When asked for tips and tactics, I’ll hear things like:

  • “This team isn’t capable, they’re just not up to the demands.  But the problem is that I’m not being allowed to do what’s necessary (e.g., fire ’em).”
  • “The issue’s pretty clear – I seem to have zero communication skills.  Some days I’ll spend the whole day trying to get these people focused on my priorities.”
  • “I’m not a leader, I’m a babysitter. Even though my people have the skills to get the job done, trying to get them to move in one direction is nearly impossible.  It’s like herding cats.”

All of those comments have been said to me, more or less, on multiple times over the years. Often, those leaders felt that their boss was standing in their way, preventing them from doing what was needed to get the team moving ahead.  On the other hand, company management felt that the leader simply didn’t have the right tools to do the job appropriately.

Here are three tips and tactics any leader can use to reduce communication problems and improve team performance:

1. Talk like a real person and drop the jargon. The finest leaders in any organization talk like normal people. We “get it” when they communicate with us.

For many people, a big compliment about their leader is something akin to, “She’s like someone you could go out for a dinner with — no airs about her.”  Don’t use lingo or management terms to show how smart you are, just talk like real a human being. People will be more likely to respond to you.

2. Start asking, stop telling. The best leaders are aware that they don’t have all the answers. They use a lot of open-ended questions. They start with: How, Where, Why, When.

When I meet a leader who thinks (s)he knows more than the entire team, I know there’s a big problem. Either that person is full of him/herself or the entire team needs to be replaced. Not surprisingly, it’s usually the former.

3. Get some balance in your life. The best leaders are very effective at work and yet have a great personal life.  The awesome leaders do that and help their team members do the same. When we were launching  DIRECTV, the founding CEO Eddy Hartenstein had a great message for his team members:

– First of all, look after yourself. If you’re not sleeping well or not looking after your personal life, your performance is going to be reduced.

– Then, look after your loved ones. If they’re not happy, you can’t be happy. They are the most important beings in your life.

– Finally, when you’re here, give me 100%. I know you have the talent and drive to do the job, but I need you to deliver the goods. If not, I can’t keep you around. This is a tough business, and each one of us needs to be delivering on expectations.

It’s good message – one that anyone could add to their repertoire


Executive and Leadership Coach