National Hockey League Hall of Famer Mark Messier is recognized as one of the greatest leaders in the history of professional team sports. This reputation is backed by the fact Messier is the only player to captain two separate teams to the Stanley Cup Championship.

So, when Messier talks leadership, people should pay attention.

After winning his sixth Stanley Cup in 1994, and the first for his New York Rangers in 54 years, Messier was quoted in a Sports Illustrated article on how he gets the most out of the players as a team captain:

“To lead effectively, you have to have the trust of those on your team, and to do that you have to find a way to connect with them, to find common ground with every individual. It’s a people issue, not a sports (or business/job) issue. The way to find that common thread is compassion.”

Messier’s quote describes the highest level of leadership communication, what I call Level 3 Leadership Communication.

As Messier’s quote reveals, Level 3 Leadership Communication is about connecting with the individuals on a team so that the leader understands what uniquely motivates each.

One of the roadblocks to a leader embracing and engaging in Level 3 Leadership Communication comes from one of the earliest lessons children learn in life, something called the “Golden Rule.”

To recount that lesson from early childhood, the “Golden Rule” states, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

On the surface it seems like a great approach. The challenge is that statement comes with a pre-supposition that every person a leader leads will have the same interests, desires and motivations. And those interests, desires, and motivates will remain constant throughout the term the individual is working with you.

These assumptions regularly cause misunderstandings between leaders and their respective team members, which causes the erosion of motivation, morale and trust.

An approach that champion leaders like Messier apply is called “the Champion Leaders’ Rule,” which states, “Do unto others as they want to be done unto.”

This approach takes a concerted effort to invest time and energy in getting to know the personal aspirations and motivations of the individuals on the team, as Messier noted. But as Messier’s six Stanley Cup Championships attest, the return on that investment can be tremendous.

There is a strong caveat to applying Leadership Communication Level 3, however, because a leader that has not invested time and energy in building the foundation in Leadership Communication Level 1 (self-awareness and self-communication) will do more to de-motivate team members and will sabotage the trust and commitment necessary to generate high-performance from individual team members.

To prove my point above, think about how many 1:1 ‘performance review’ discussions fail to generate the positive feelings and the performance improvements discussed in the session with a team member. This is often the case even when a leader gets “agreement” from the team member regarding the improvements that need to be developed.

Too many performance review discussions end up creating animosity, distrust and confusion instead of the intended outcome of higher performance.
When a leader invests in themselves in Leadership Communication Level 1 to:

• become self-aware of how they want and need to show up as a leader, and
• how they need to project themselves when they are in front of their team members (Leadership Communication Level 2), plus
• develop their personal internal and external communication, either individually or collectively,

the results received from the team will grow exponentially, and it will happen with you spending significantly less time trying to motivate the team as a unit because the team members will take ownership and responsibility of the effort.

Author's Bio: 

Skip Weisman, The Leadership & Workplace Communication Expert, works with leaders and their teams to improve bottom line results through better communication, collaboration and teamwork in all types of work environments. Skip just created a new free training series entitled – “The Critical Skills for Confident Leadership” – includes a Teleclass and a series of 3 short videos on Leadership Communication – to learn more and register go to