Posted on 2 mins read

One of the core hard things about leadership is that people hear what they are, not what you say.

When you say “let’s work hard and get this done,” you’re probably hoping to light a fire under the easygoing or underachieving members of the team, but only the anxious, hardworking folks who are already at risk for burnout will hear you. And when you say “but pace yourself and take breaks” you’re hoping to bring the overachievers down a notch but that won’t work; laid-back people will take this as a cue to lay back even more and their anxious teammates will try to pick up the slack.

There are also people who strike a healthy balance, putting in a good day’s work but taking plenty of time off and punting the occasional deadline. These are your most valuable people over the long term, and you’re just wasting their time by talking at them.

So telling a group of people to step it up will usually make things worse, and telling that same group to slow down and catch their breath will also usually make things worse. I don’t care how big your ego is or how many of last year’s bestsellers you’ve read, you’re not going to cure anyone of work anxiety or fundamentally change their personality with your off-brand Fortune 500 shtick.

So what do you do? None of the above. Stomping around a stage and shouting slogans isn’t leadership, it’s a Beastie Boys concert. Lucky for you, most people already want to get things done. Your team members overwhelmingly want to do a good job. If they don’t, it’s either because they don’t have the tools and information they need or because the environment they’re trying to work in is stifling them.

Leadership is noticing and fixing that stuff.

To be one hundred percent clear: do not tell people how hard they should be working. Do not try to motivate them. Instead, spend your time chipping away at the stuff that saps their inherent motivation. Unclear objectives, slow and bureaucratic feedback loops, belligerent teammates, overtime, undercompensation, slow computers, open floor plans, irrational timelines, perverse metrics, overinvolved managers and so on. A leader creates permanent solutions to recurring problems.

People in their natural state do good work. Organizations in their natural state add friction to everyday processes until work is impossible. A good leader is someone who makes work simpler.