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Leadership communication is important

I just had my regular Saturday afternoon (very) amateur basketball game, where I’m happy to say we won. That’s not the point of this post, however. This game stood out because we had a great referee. I took away three leadership communication tips from watching him manage the game.

Did the referee make all the right calls? Not necessarily.

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

Did the referee communicate effectively? Yes – absolutely.

As a 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 leadership communication.

1. Good leadership communication means clearly stating the call

Nothing frustrates a player on the court more than 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 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 stating the reasons why. You can’t tell all of your team every aspect of what you do. For important decisions that affect their work or the role that they have, you really should be communicating the key aspects 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.

Don’t leave it to your team to work out the answer. Show good leadership communication by stating your reasons clearly.

2. Good leadership communication means admitting when you’re wrong

Nothing makes a team angry 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 powerful 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 credible and reasonable. It might even gain you respect.

Sometimes great leadership communication means admitting when you make a mistake.

3. Good leadership communication means keeping calm

Remaining calm is a great quality of a leader. You can read more about how to stay calm at work here. 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 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 reduce the number of 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. Show good leadership communication and keep it calm.

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 these three leadership communication tips from great referees. Show good leadership communication by clearly communicating a decision, admitting when you’re wrong and keeping it calm.

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