"Success or failure in business is caused more by the mental attitude even than by mental capacities." ~Walter Scott
"For success, attitude is equally as important as ability." ~Harry F. Banks
We’ve all had those bosses that made the day to day grind of work nearly unbearable. They took what should have created a sense of accomplishment, at a minimum, and sucked the life right out of it. And what’s even worse, they killed the productivity in the office as well. But that doesn’t mean that as leaders we can’t learn from them, just not in the way that they would imagine.
Looking at mistakes is often just as enlightening for the future leader as looking at successes. In this case it acts as a HUGE warning sign of what not to do. So for those of us in leadership who may have not had the displeasure of working under enough so called leaders to cover all of the ways to destroy morale, we have a list of the Top 10 ways:
#1 Never listening – Do you want to know one of the best ways to make someone feel worthless? Simply ignore everything they say no matter how well informed and well intentioned it may be. This destroys an employee’s self-worth as well as any motivation they might have to share ideas or insight in the future. Horrible bosses tend to have an arrogance about them that both considers themselves “better” than those they oversee and also inflates how good their own ideas are. Neither of those things helps the rest of the team feel good about their contributions to the organization.
#2 Take credit for the positive and assign blame for the negative – Everybody wants to receive credit for a job well done and never wants to be blamed for a failure that wasn’t their fault. Yet horrible bosses routinely play the “political” game for their own self-serving reasons and kill their team’s desire to do anything. I say do ANYTHING, because if you are going to get blamed for any bad thing that occurs and don’t get any credit for the good things there is literally no benefit to working at all. Of course, the reason that your boss needs to exhibit this behavior is that their own performance and production is likely terrible, so they need to grab onto any achievement of their team and deflect their inadequacies to preserve their place in the organization.
#3 Never praising – Leaders tend to focus on the negative and the problems in the organization so that they can address them. This tendency isn’t necessarily bad as long as it is balanced with some praise. But horrible bosses use this tendency of their own and their bosses to focus strictly on the negative. While most employees understand being called out for mistakes they make or shortfalls in performance, when this is all they receive they begin questioning whether anything they do is praise-worthy which leads to a general feeling of failure. Last time I checked, making your team feel like a failure is the opposite of building morale.
#4 Micromanaging – There is very little more irritating on the job than a micromanaging boss. Part of the problem from a morale standpoint is that you aren’t given enough freedom to use all of your talents because you have the boss directing your every step. By way of example, how happy would you be being forced to do 3rd grade homework all day long (no recesses)? It might be cute for a day or two, but it would quickly get boring and you’d want more. A micromanaging boss not only does that, but then finds problems where they often don’t exist to try to keep you in line.
#5 Dishonesty – Patrick Lencioni in his famous book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team puts “Trust” squarely at the foundation of proper teamwork. When your boss lies to you and other teammates it destroys that trust and replaces it with helplessness. Once that trust is gone you can’t be sure of much of anything that comes out of their mouth. Helplessness and untrustworthiness make it difficult at best to build morale.
#6 Holding back promotions – Most people are interested in advancing their careers. Yet horrible bosses tend to consolidate power and will often only promote those they can control. It’s demoralizing to put in a ton of hard work, demonstrate that you are the best person for the promotion, then get passed up for someone who sucks-up. Couple this with the fact your boss is most likely not developing you at all, and instead of having a team that wants to learn and better themselves, you have a team that is defeated with no hope of improvement in their own situation.
#7 Threats of firing – Fear does not equal respect and NEVER gets the long term results leaders are looking for. Yes, the boss may get what they want in the short -term, but at what cost? Being secure and being treated fairly are foundations of good morale. A boss who is constantly threatening people’s jobs just to get the results he/she want is, a) Clearly weak, b) Unable to control their own emotions, and c) Incapable of giving proper direction. There isn’t any scenario where threats result in better morale.
#8 Invading personal time – Disrespect and disregard for personal time is something that will burn out a staff quicker than most things on this list. Calling, e-mailing and texting after hours, on weekends, and on vacation coupled with a demand of immediate reply. Springing a demand to stay late at 4pm, or demanding that you work the weekend on Friday. All of these things wear a team down. What is even worse is that half the time the cause of the emergency is the boss’s fault, OR there really isn’t much of a need to burn the midnight hour at all (other than some arbitrary deadline the boss controls).
#9 Favorites and double standards – Leaders are supposed to set the example for hard work and fairness. Unfortunately, many bosses abuse their authority and give themselves a “free-pass” on all of the difficult work and decisions of the organization. Couple this with a boss who passes along the double standard by playing favorites with those team members whom he/she gets along with (read: suck-ups) and you have a staff in a state of desperation for leadership.
#10 Keeping everyone in the dark – Weak leaders use information as a tool to maintain control. They will give you little to no details on a task they assign you, then come back to you afterwards and claim you didn’t provide what they wanted. They won’t keep you informed of what is going on in the organization so that you are always off-balance and unable to offer suggestions (making them the source of all progress in the department). And it all gives them the opportunity to shape the direction of things to serve themselves best. Of course, when you have no idea what is going on and no idea of what the expectations are you end up being confused and apprehensive. Neither of which is conducive to high morale.
While there are dozens of other examples, these are the ones that I hear about most frequently from leaders and employees. Most of these find their source in insecurity, arrogance and irresponsibility which means that if you find yourself under a leader like this, you are likely to be getting very little out of it from a career perspective. My recommendation is that life is too short to deal with a situation where you don’t grow and feel demoralized. Look for lateral opportunities within the organization, or even opportunities outside the organization. It is amazing how long some of these leaders can keep their jobs, so if you’re hoping to wait it out, you might be waiting longer than you think.
As mentioned above, the only good thing you gain from your experience under a morale killing boss is learning clearly what not to do when you take over your own organization.