3 Ways Managers Kill Engagement and Crush Motivation

Written By Randy Hall  |  Coaching, Leadership, Management 


Very few managers show up each morning at work thinking: “today I’m going to cause my team to disengage and demotivate them any way I can.”  And yet, many managers spend a great deal of their time doing exactly that.  It may not be their intention but if you observe them, talk to their teams, look at the results they cause; it is exactly what happens.  So how do managers create such a huge gap between what they want to happen and what they actually cause to happen?  If you watch them you will notice how some of their beliefs and actions ultimately create very different results from the ones most managers say they want.

Many managers have been promoted from an individual contributor position to a management role and are now managing people who do what they used to.  In these situations the manager often believes that he or she was promoted because he or she was an expert at the role.  Sometimes this is correct, which could be part of the problem.  Now this individual needs to become great at leading, not great at doing.  The manager goes about his or her day believing that their role is to tell others how to do their job.  Is anyone motivated or engaged in an environment where the boss is looking over your shoulder and correcting you on a regular basis?  Not likely.

As a leader, your job is to create capability, make people better, help them learn and reach their potential.  No part of that is about telling them how to do things.  Even the learning part isn’t best accomplished by giving them directions, it’s done by letting them try, make mistakes, chart a different course and try again.  They need your guidance, your questions, your support, but not your answers.

Speed is more important than anything else

The reason most of us take shortcuts as managers, in how we interact with our team, is that we simply believe it will be faster to just tell people what to do.  We may even think that telling them harder or raising our voice helps things happen more quickly.  Here’s the scary part: it does.  It also destroys engagement.  Violence, or something close to it,  is the quickest way to behavior change but it is not sustainable and it kills our culture.  The best performers simply will not put up with it for long and will leave for a place where they can grow, thrive and reach their potential.  Speed matters, but it matters less than direction.  Where will your team be in 6 months or a year?  Will they be a high performing, fully engaged adaptable group, or a bunch of mediocre employees who wait for instructions from you, try not to get caught doing anything wrong and show up with little enthusiasm for their job?  The answer to that question is far more important than how fast they finish their immediate task.  As a manager, you have to prioritize the longer-term improvement of the team over today’s self-imposed urgency.

My way is the the only way

This one is interesting to watch as I work with managers who are trying to create engagement and then immediately sacrifice it rather than let someone solve a problem without their help.  There is an overpowering need for many mangers to have their own solutions in place, even if the ones their team came up with actually might work better.  As I coach leaders to let their teams create their own solutions for which they will be accountable, I watch time and time again as managers dive back in to put their stamp on the new idea or take it back away from the team and change it.  This sends the team a loud and clear message: “your ideas aren’t good enough, I, the all knowing manager, will take them and make them workable and then give them back to you to execute according to my wishes.”  Now there’s an environment people can’t wait to get to in the morning.  As managers, we have to remember that our employees are often closer to the problem and may even come up with better ideas than we do.  Much more importantly, we have to understand that if we only let people implement our ideas, we ultimately retain the accountability for making those ideas work.  If people create their own solutions that are workable, even if they aren’t exactly the ones we would have chosen, they will have ownership for the solutions and the results they cause.  We get commitment rather than just compliance.

As leaders, we have to deal with the results that our actions cause.  While we have behaviors and patterns that are hard to change, we must take a step back and decide what kind of team we want and how we help them get there.  As individuals, we typically hate micromanagement, bosses constantly criticizing our ideas and our actions, overbearing experts who think they always know best and managers who spend most of their time pointing out our mistakes.  And yet, we become those very people if we don’t plan not to.  Our job is to create capability, engagement, commitment, and satisfaction and help our team and our business reach its potential.  We have to examine our actions on a daily basis and see if they are helping us accomplish that goal, or keeping us from it.

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