Leaders should communicate effectively, like good referees

Communicate effectively, like a great referee
Sure, they look good. But referees also carry out an important function!

I just had my regular Saturday afternoon (very) amateur basketball game, where I’m happy to say we smashed the other team by 25 points. Let’s not talk about last week though.

That’s not the point of this post, however. This game stood out because we had a referee who was very, very good.

Did the referee make all the right calls? No (in my opinion!)

Did the referee have a tremendous influence on the outcome of the game itself? No.

Did the referee communicate effectively? Yes – absolutely.

As a new leader, there is a lot you can learn from observing the differences between good and bad officials in sport. There are a number of things that good referees do that are very similar to the traits of an effective leader. They are all about communication.

Communicate effectively by clearly stating the call

Nothing frustrates a player on the court when they don’t know what has happened when the referee blows the whistle. Who was the foul on? What was it for? Why was it a foul? These are three of the most common questions asked when a referee doesn’t communicate effectively.

The reason why it frustrates players so much is that they are not being informed. They don’t know what caused the decision to be made, or who is at fault. Players end up “filling in the blanks” with their own information.

The ref got it wrong. They don’t know what they’re doing. The ref is a *expletive*

This is also what happens when you make decisions as a leader, without articulating the reasons why. Granted, you can’t tell all of your team every aspect of what you do. For important decisions that affect they work that they do or the role that they have, you really should be communicating the key aspects very clearly. Otherwise your team will fill in the blanks too.

You’re favouring someone else in the team. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re a bad leader.

Those are three statements that can cause turmoil in your team and put your role in jeopardy.

Communicate effectively by admitting when you’re wrong

Nothing riles up players quite so much as when a referee clearly gets a call wrong, but won’t admit it.

Everyone knows it, even the other team. When the referee gets it wrong and doesn’t admit it, they immediately lose credibility. Will all of their other decisions be wrong too?

A good referee will even apologise to the players – and will say something similar to:

Sorry, it looked like you hit him from where I was

This is enough – they don’t need to grovel or even reverse the decision, they just need to state what the circumstances were and that they got it wrong.

That’s what you should do as a leader, too. When you admit fault, it does two things:

  1. It lets people know that you’re human. You’re not this all-knowing boss, you’re a person, just like your team
  2. It lets people know that you don’t need to be right all the time. This makes you appear both more credible and reasonable.

Communicate effectively by keeping it calm

Remaining calm is a great attribute of a leader, which I wrote about in a post here. Possibly the worst thing a referee can do is have a raging argument with a player, because this can escalate quickly. When someone else is calm, it often has a calming affect on others too.

The best referees are calm in the face of criticism. As a leader, you should try to be too.

A good way to develop this habit is to consciously monitor the events in your life that cause you to become the most stressed, anxious or angry. Once you understand them you can either try to minimise the times they happen, or simply maintain awareness of when these “hot-button” issues are occurring. This helps you to stay more aware in the heat of the moment, hopefully minimising any bad outcomes that occur during the more tense parts of your job.

You’re not meant to be your team’s  best friend, but you certainly can improve your relationship with your team by keeping in mind the three communication tips of great referees. Communicate effectively by clearly communicating the decision, admit when you’re wrong and keep it calm.

Lead your team better!

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