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The 10 Best Ways To DeMotivate the People You Work With

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Of all the dynamics you handle as a leader, leading people is by far the most challenging.

Very few leaders I know actively set out to discourage their team, yet all of us do it—most often unintentionally.

There’s an edge that comes with being a leader. You see problems others miss. You also see opportunities. You’re passionate. And most days, you’re driven.

And while these are great things, they also have a shadow side.

Sometimes as a leader when you think you’re doing the right thing, you’re doing the wrong thing. When you think you’re motivating people, you’re doing the opposite.

So how do you end up demotivating people in leadership?

Here are the ten very common ways leaders do it all the time.

And in case you think I’m judging, I’ve made most of these mistakes more than once. Experience is a great teacher—if you listen.

Experience is a great teacher—if you listen. Click To Tweet

1. Make your team do the work but steal all the credit

When a church or organization is small, you end up doing the lion’s share of the work as a leader. As a result, you get a lot of the credit when things go well.

It’s easy to get addicted to receiving credit.

But naturally, as an organization grows, more and more people do the work you used to do. That’s as it should be. The best leaders do less every year, focusing on their core strengths.

This becomes a pivot point for every leader. Insecure leaders will still want all the credit, and they’ll do whatever it takes to receive it.

One sure way to demotivate your team is to make them do the work but steal all the credit.

Secure leaders love to push other people into the spotlight. Insecure leaders don’t.

If your team is doing the work, give them the credit.

Secure leaders love to push other people into the spotlight. Insecure leaders don't. Click To Tweet

2. Micromanage people

Micromanaging only seems attractive to micromanagers. It’s never attractive to the micromanaged.

So why do leaders micromanage?

Sometimes it’s a control issue. But often it arises because a leader doesn’t know how to scale an organization.

When a church or organization is small, you can know all the details and sometimes you should know all the details.

Many leaders become addicted to knowing all the details and being in on all the decisions. And they simply can’t let go.

As a result, they’ll only ever attract followers, not true leaders. And they’ll artificially shrink the size of their organization to the span of their control.

Micromanaging only seems attractive to micromanagers. It's never attractive to the micromanaged. Click To Tweet

3. Be disorganized

Disorganization demotivates. Period.

If the event you’re attending is disorganized, you want to leave early (or take over).

If the hotel you’re staying is disorganized (no rooms available when they promised…the room aren’t clean and the valet takes 30 minutes to find your car), you want your money back.

If you’re disorganized, you make it exceedingly difficult for your team to succeed.

One the greatest things you can do for your team as a leader is to become more organized the more your organization grows.

You should get better at order, not worse, even though the task of leadership becomes more complex and demanding.

If you do the hard work of figuring that out, you’ll be a much better leader.

Here are some of my top time management tips that have helped me become much more organized.

Disorganization demotivates. Click To Tweet

4. Change your mind…constantly

I can be impulsive. I’m not alone in that in leadership.

Too many leaders direct their organizations according to their whims.

Every time the leader:

Reads a new book

Attends a conference

Studies a new model

Wakes up with a new idea

…the organization changes course.

This exhausts your team.

No leader builds a great future by changing course every few months.

The truly great ones find an effective strategy and stick with it.

No leader builds a great future by changing course every few months. Click To Tweet

5. Be unclear

Leadership is complex and often confusing.

So it’s natural to not be 100% certain.

Even when you’re not certain as a leader, you can be clear.  Just be honest with people that you’re not sure about the long term course, but in the meantime, tell them the 3 things you’re going to focus on.

Your team needs clarity. No one can follow ambiguity.

Your team needs clarity. No one can follow ambiguity. Click To Tweet

6. Delay decisions

Leadership is complex. We all need time to process. But leading well is learning how to make solid decisions quickly.

Can all decisions be made quickly?

No.

But sometimes leaders fall into a rut of delaying every decision for no good reason. It becomes the leader’s default, and that’s always demotivating to a team.

Beware: the leader who always needs more time eventually runs out of time. Constant delay leads to eventual decay.

The leader who always needs more time eventually runs out of time. Constant delay leads to decay. Click To Tweet

7. Don’t execute

Too many leaders live in their heads.

Great thinking is a critical part of any leader’s job, but thoughts that never see action never produce results.

Failing to execute also creates a cycle in which the team hopes, only to be disappointed. Star team members will only be disappointed for so long. Eventually, they’ll leave.

Execution separates a leader with great ideas from a leader with a great organization.

Execution separates a leader with great ideas from a leader with a great organization. Click To Tweet

8. Say one thing and do another

Too many leaders make public statements of what they think they should say, but then live another way.

Big mistake.

Doing what you said you were going to do is the foundation of integrity. Your team loses respect for you every time they see a disconnect between what you say and what you do—organizationally or personally.

What you say publicly should always be what you do privately.

What you say publicly should always be what you do privately. Click To Tweet

9. Offer abundant criticism

Most strong leaders I know find that criticism comes naturally.

sometimes I hate the fact that I can walk into a room and spot ten things I would change in the first 60 seconds.

Of course, that’s also strength…being able to spot the problem is one of the reasons many organizations make progress.

But that can lead leaders to always be critical. You can have a spectacular event but obsess over the three things that went wrong.

Eventually, your team will get deeply discouraged and you’ll have trouble keeping great leaders.

If you only obsess over what went wrong, you’ll never build a team committed to getting it right.

The key is to truly celebrate what went right, identify what went wrong, and keep moving.

If you only obsess over what went wrong, you'll never build a team committed to getting it right. Click To Tweet

10. Rarely encourage them

No leader has ever quit an organization because they were over-encouraged. Many have left because they were completely discouraged.

How do you know someone needs encouragement?

Simple. They’re breathing.

As a leader, you should be encouraging people every time you interact with someone. Finish an email by saying ‘thanks,’ or ‘hope your day is going well,’ or ‘I love your commitment to the mission.’

Thank volunteers for working hard, but also thank your paid staff.

Encourage your paid staff as though they weren’t paid. The positive environment that encouragement creates will eventually become worth more to them than the salary.

Don’t believe that?

Choose between a $55,000 a year job in workplace with a terrible culture, or a $50,000 a year job where you are encouraged, developed and grown.

Which would you pick? Exactly.

Should you pay your people well?

Absolutely. But in addition to giving people a raise, raise the level of encouragement you give to your team.

No leader has ever quit an organization because they were over-encouraged. Click To Tweet

What Would You Add?

I wrote more about creating a positive team culture in this post. Have a look.

In the meantime, what would you add to this list? What demotivates you? Or what have you done as a leader that demotivates others?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

The 10 Best Ways To DeMotivate the People You Work With

23 Comments

  1. Jess on January 9, 2020 at 8:25 am

    I am demotivated by leaders who don’t have my back. Many times as leaders we make decisions some people love, while others hate them. Especially when a change is involved. So to make a tough decision, or begin a change effort that your Pastor or Manager tells you they support, but when someone questions the decision/change the Pastor or Manager doesn’t discuss the concern with you but they switch to the viewpoint of the person and contradict what you are doing – that is truly demotivating. Particularly when your Pastor or Manager prefer to avoid conflict. So you’re left without support to keep the decision or drive the change, because your Pastor or Manager is afraid of conflict. That is quick way to encourage me to find some place else to serve or work.

  2. Mark on January 8, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    Other ways are to lie to the people who work for you. If you think those under you can’t find out if you’re lying to them, you’re wrong. They can and will check the truthfulness of what you tell them. Also, lying to those above you that everything is fine when it isn’t and then preventing those under you from going over your head with serious problems is not good either.

  3. Alan Peterson on January 8, 2020 at 11:45 am

    Related to Scott #11 Provide a clear pathway around and over your subordinates so people can go directly to you to get decisions overturned and agreements broken. This ends up reflecting poorly on your whole organization.

  4. Wanda on January 8, 2020 at 9:26 am

    After an assigned task is completed, the leader massages the task by adding ‘buttons and bows’ (i.e. minor edits that are his/her personal preferences not substantive in nature). After this happens hundreds of times, the mindset of the person originally assigned the tasks moves from excitement in the task to a feeling of ‘I’ll just let him/her do it from the beginning’. People will learn to stop volunteering because you have shown ‘you can do it better yourself and ‘whatever is done won’t be acceptable’.

  5. Dennis on January 8, 2020 at 9:06 am

    Asking for “suggestions” or putting out a suggestion box then never even acknowledging the suggestions that are submitted is a real demotivator. If you don’t want feedback, don’t pretend you do. People see through the ruse rather quickly.

  6. Nobathembu on December 6, 2018 at 4:10 am

    Not calling out non-performers and saboteurs. I get it with the grace, loving people like Christ loves us – team members get frustrated where there is no direct consequence for non-performance.

    Avoiding the tough conversations, and failing to stand by and openly supporting the enforcer of your directives.

    Over time the high performers get more and more work loaded on them because they ARE trusted to deliver, yet the room is full of the holders of the “positions / titles” others are performing

  7. Alan Vink on December 5, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    Great summary Carey, thanks. I think the fundamental problem is ‘skills’. Every team leader I have ever met anywhere wants to lead their team well and have a high performing and functional team. The problem in pastoral leadership is lack of skills AND lack of attention to developing the needed skills.

  8. Karalee on December 5, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Not offering proper training & practical support and guidance can be a HUGE demotivator. When a person feels ill-equipped/prepared for a task they can start to feel frustrated, really frustrated. I know I hate feeling like I can’t do my job or carry out my responsibility properly, especially when it is because I lack information, training or insight into a particular role.

    It helps too, to make sure you communicate in a way that your team can receive. Every body takes in information effectively in different ways. Some people understand when you use visual, as well as verbal. Some need the opportunity to learn by doing – I think everybody does better once they have had a hands on walk through a couple times. And write everything down for reference – and be specific. SO even after training is complete, your team can refer back to the notes to refresh what they have learned.

  9. Dallas McLean on December 5, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Here is one I’ve been experiencing. When your leader gives you great responsibility and little help, then you see big measures of growth and success then they jump back in and take over….

  10. Richard Lockette on December 5, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    Support your team empower them to lead and work through your leadership having an open door policy is a must but, and meet as often as possible to listen, and to direct them. I found that if I am not very supportive of my team they are stalled in their potential and so is the organization.

  11. Dennis on December 5, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    Another great way to demotivate is to be too busy or too important to answer questions your staff pose from time to time. Not all questions can or even need to be answered immediately. Some require introspection or even research before answering. However, to “blow off” a question by saying; “E-mail me that will you and I’ll get back to you.” then never responding, answering with flippancy, or referring the question to another staffer when you actually know the answer says; “Your question is unimportant or below me.”
    Do that enough and you’ll find that no one asks questions anymore. They simply follow instructions until they can find a different place to work.
    Earlier this year, after the President implemented his tax reform plan, I asked a pastor if the leadership of the church was discussing the possibility that the large increase in personal exemption might cause some people to reconsider (read “reduce”) their giving strategy and how to respond. His knee jerk response was; “Oh, we don’t worry about politics.” Regardless of how the tax changes affect the church’s resources, I will always remember how my honest question was “blown off” with a flippant remark.

  12. Bill on December 5, 2018 at 11:17 am

    When presenting a new idea/project to the staff, completely ignoring the advice, wisdom and experience the staff shares after having worked with the church members over 10 years.
    Not welcoming or listening to any of the women on the different committees.

  13. Daniel Webb on December 5, 2018 at 10:43 am

    Operating outside of accountability. Operating in a way that leaves many options depending on how things go, to divert blame or say”I didnt mean that” or when your staff take your commands and enforce them and people get mad being able to step in and explain how your staff misunderstood your directives. Being vague enough that you are allowed to duck and weave and never be wrong. Hovering right at the edge of the light so people have to assume your position leaving yourself room to adjust to the most positive outcome, the one everybody likes, and distancing yourself from the ones people didnt like while explaining how misunderstood you were or simply denying you ever made the decision all together. And since you are the pastor with the platform all other staff voices are silenced or marginalized and left to take the blame or clean up the mess while you make yourself the hero or the victim dependingvonvthe best position for the most adulation.

  14. Jane on December 5, 2018 at 10:39 am

    Not sharing enough information on how the decision was made. The ‘why we do what we do’ is important in teaching and equipping.

  15. Jane on December 5, 2018 at 10:37 am

    Not sharing enough information about your decision. The ‘why we do what we do’ is important for teaching and equipping.

  16. Kyle Aaron McConkey on December 5, 2018 at 10:12 am

    #12. Be apathetic to their spiritual development and emotional health.

  17. Greg Trout on December 5, 2018 at 9:44 am

    #13 Leave out personal life and friendship.
    It happens too many times where only task related conversations are had and there is no personal connection.

  18. Neri @ KCBT on December 3, 2017 at 9:58 am

    #12 Tolerate poor performance

  19. HoosierConservative on April 12, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Most of these problems boil down to a mental block the leader develops. They spent so many years building that church/business/group on their own backs, missed time with their children, put their spouse through hardship, and gave their last dollar in the early years to get it going. Now that organization is their baby. No one loves it as much as them, no one care as much as them, and certainly no one deserves any credit for showing up five minutes ago.

    Too many leaders recruit smart people, not to tap into their gifts, but to manipulate and control their gifts under the guise of “submission” to a leader. The leader feels like they deserve to get paid back for a decade of living on peanut butter when they built it. Honestly without being able to see it, they will use talented people the same way they use a fax machine.

    Great leadership starts when a leader can divorce themselves from the past and see their team as an “adult” living in the present.

  20. Shelly on April 5, 2016 at 10:57 am

    I would add:Not admitting they don’t know an answer. I’ve worked for people that think they should always know the answer as the boss. They will answer any question with the confidence of knowing everything. But this doesn’t work and they lose credibility. If they don’t know the answer they commonly give vague, inaccurate, or conflicting information. It makes people lose faith in their leader. It’s hard to be motivated by someone that can’t just say “That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer”, ” Does anyone on my team know the answer?” to show confidence and faith in their leadership team or “I will find that out for you” and then find out and follow up.

  21. Tim Knighton on April 4, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    I would add never learning to say you’re sorry and asking for forgiveness when you screw up or do any of the things listed in your list. When leaders won’t apologize to people they’ve hurt it can cause all kinds of frustration and burnout. “I’m sorry but…..” doesn’t count either.

  22. Scott on April 4, 2016 at 9:22 am

    #11: Undermine your workers.

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