Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

5 Hard Choices All Great Managers Know They Have to Make

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We’ve all benefited from the communication efforts of great leaders.

We’ve also suffered through the pains of poor communication in leadership roles—and let’s be real, it can make working as a team a billion times more difficult (that’s just a guess, of course).

I’ve found that great managers regularly have to make five communication choices. Take a look at each of the ones I’ve listed below, assess how well you’re doing in each, and consider a few quick challenges to improve yourself—or challenge others to do the same.

1. Choose to Address Poor Performance

How did we get to the point where not providing performance feedback, or doing it poorly, has become commonplace?

Keeping your mouth shut when an issue should be addressed doesn’t lead to things getting better on their own. Avoiding the issue might seem like an easy route in the short-term, but you will pay a price—your reputation might be negatively impacted, your influence might weaken, and others team members may become cynical or disengaged.

Also, the under performer isn’t being protected—he or she’s actually being disrespected. As GE’s former CEO Jack Welch put it, “Failing to differentiate among employees”—otherwise not letting your employees know where they stand when they come into work every day—“is actually the cruelest form of management there is.”

Quick Challenge

If you’ve allowed a performance issue to go unaddressed, deal with it this week in a respectful, professional, and productive way (this article on giving feedback to someone who hates it might help).

2. Choose to Understand What Motivates

Why do we assume that everyone wants to be treated exactly the same?

Look around. Everyone is different, and that’s a great thing. In the best organizations, the strengths of one team member makes up for the weaknesses of another.

Unfortunately, in an effort to treat everyone the same, some leaders have turned a well-meaning concept into an ineffective behavior. As a result, they fail to tap into the unique potential of each employee.

Treating people as individuals doesn’t mean that you apply policies differently among your team members, or that you use unfair and inconsistent promotion practices. It simply means that you recognize that what motivates one employee doesn’t necessarily excite another. Or, that the potential of one person for a certain role is different than that of another. The key is to see and appreciate each person for his or her unique commitment, capabilities, and contributions.

Quick Challenge

Speak with one or two team members this week to learn what really matters to them and what they’re most excited about—then, take steps to help motivate them through these suggestions.

3. Choose to Listen

Does it seem that many leaders chose to talk more than listen?

The expression, “You have two ears and only one mouth, use them in proportion,” is lost on some managers. Whether the function of an organization’s culture (leaders talk; everyone else listens) or the personality of specific leaders, talking too often should be unlearned.

The ability to ask one good question at a time and then listen (really listen) with the intent to understand is a key leadership skill. Many issues would be avoided or more quickly resolved if more people chose to listen first.

Quick Challenge

The next time you ask someone a question, ask only one question and listen to their answer with the intent of truly understanding. Don’t get wrapped up in your own head preparing a response. Instead, ensure that you really hear what’s being shared with you.

4. Choose to Talk Straight

Leadership is a tough, often isolated role. Leaders must make decisions, deliver messages, and convey information that can upset some.

Not every leader is up for this task. As a result, some leaders water down their messages or avoid addressing a subject in a timely and direct manner.

This helps no one—the business goes down the wrong path, money is wasted, and jobs are impacted. If something needs to be said, say it.

Quick Challenge

The next time you’re faced with conveying bad news, chose to speak the truth in a respectful, timely, clear, and compassionate manner (this article on breaking bad news to anyone is a great resource). It may seem scary, but you might be surprised to find that people take more action when they know exactly what’s going on.

5. Choose to Share Perspectives

Have you ever refrained from sharing an insightful perspective out of fear that you may sound silly, uninformed, or critical?

Your organization hires people to collectively produce better results. To do this, ideas need to be thrown on the table, critiqued, and ultimately selected for implementation based on their individual merits.

You should create a culture that’s open to new ideas, and not one where individuals are unwilling to share certain perspectives out of fear that they might upset someone.

Quick Challenge

If a potentially productive idea pops into your head this week, chose not to squash it out of hand. Instead, elect to speak up and share it. Just maybe you’ll encourage others to do the same.

This article was originally published on It has been republished here with permission.