The employee sat down with me in a sunlit conference room.

"You're a terrible communicator," she said.

The great irony? I was running a technical communications group at the time.

Some lessons like that come pretty hard. You learn them only by failing, teaching you things you can't learn any way other than through experience. Here are my top three.

1. Always over-communicate.

If you don't over-communicate, you will fail. It takes hard work. You have to be intentional about it, explaining things with just the right amount of detail, then explaining them again. You have to ask employees: "Do you get it? Is it clear? Are we on the same page?" If you fail to over-communicate, you will slip into a role of mere information provider. Your employees will hear you, but they won't listen. They won't react, respond, and do the work.

Why you have to fail: There's a difference between being a good communicator and being communicative. Let me explain. Being a good communicator means, when you do finally communicate (hello, introverts), it's effective. The problem is, how do you know if you are communicating enough? Just communicating means you talk clearly, but do employees really know the plan? Being communicative is different. It means you relay information consistently and clearly. It's only when an employee finally gives you feedback about your lack of communication that you will know whether you failed, that you are not consistently communicative enough. By then, it's usually too late. You've created confusion.

2. Spell out the process.

I've learned this one over and over again, and it's still not fully within my grasp. It's not handholding. It's being clear about directions and being available and willing to teach and train. Spell out the details in a way that makes sense, then stick with the employee all the way through the process and make sure he or she fully understands what to do. That part about "all the way through" is where many leaders fail.

Why you have to fail: OK, so you know process is important. It's boring but necessary. No one on your team knows what to do otherwise, and they don't know the expectations. But it's only when things get really out of whack--the communication breaks down, employees quit, or the product is a bust--that you know you didn't spell out the process adequately. You have to look back and see the mistakes. Then, you have to maintain the process with employees so they know exactly what to do. That is, until they can work autonomously without your direct involvement.

3. Reminders work wonders.

A reminder is a powerful tool. It's a reinforcement, it's a push...and it's a sign of good leadership. It's your job to provide the occasional reminders about attitude, work ethic, and priorities, so employees know you are invested in them. Bad bosses sometimes coast and fail to keep fanning the flame of employee growth and development. They step out of the way (and maybe play too much golf) as the employee sort of spirals into a place of too much self-reliance, feeling like theirs is a solo act.

Why you have to fail: I'd like to write a book about reminders. It's more than using Sticky Notes. A reminder is the key to unlock the productivity of an employee, a tool that says, "Hey, I'm paying attention, I trust you but I still want you to finish this task, and I'm also aware of the heavy workload you have and the stress you're under." A reminder says "I get it" in a clear way. In some ways, it's the essence of great leadership. You're there to nudge. When you forget to remind, it creates a disconnect. You are telling employees you don't care. By then, you've lost them because they think you're not paying attention.