The Top 7 Ways Leaders Demoralize Their Teams

You know that as a leader you have a direct impact on your team, right?

It’s  impossible for a leader NOT to have an impact on their team. The only question is whether it’s a good impact or a bad one.

More than anything, your leadership will directly impact team morale. You’re either boosting team morale or demoralizing your team. It’s binary. If you think you’re being neutral, you won’t stay neutral for long. Left unattended, the air always leaks out of team spirit.

I’ve seen a lot of leaders demoralize their teams without even knowing they’re doing it. And when I look back on my leadership, I realize I’ve done it in seasons too.

Demoralizing your team happens primarily for two reasons.

First, it happens when a leader is frustrated, which for most leaders, is quite often.

Sometimes a leader will blow off steam to feel better. But what often feels good to a leader can feel terrible to the team. You might think you’re scoring cheap points, but when a leader scores cheap points, the team always pays.

Second, it happens when a leader lacks self-awareness.

Here are the top 7 ways leaders demoralize their teams without even knowing it.

demoralize your team

1. Not articulating expectations

Too often leaders hold team members responsible for expectations they never articulated.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say you’re having an event on Thursday night. You expect the entire team to be there. After all, that’s what all good team members do—they show up. Except you never told them.

The next day you’re upset and frustrated with the team members who didn’t show.

That’s an unarticulated expectation.

Ditto with the hope that everyone would come in below budget this quarter—but again, you never told anyone. So many on the team spent their budget.

You can’t hold people accountable for something you never told them about.

Unless you want to frustrate them of course… then go right ahead.

By the way, this is also excellent marriage advice.

2. Holding others to a standard you won’t follow

With leadership comes certain perks. One of those perks is that a leader often gets to set the rules.

Too often, though, leaders will decide the rules don’t apply to them or might even create a separate set of rules for themselves.

This is a big mistake.

Never ask your team to obey something you don’t obey. That goes for deadlines, expenses, and even parking spaces.

If you want to demoralize your team, act like the rules don’t apply to you.

3. Stealing ideas

As a leader, you get pitched all the time.

It’s far too easy to take all the credit for your team’s ideas.

Bad leaders take the accolades and assign the blame. Team members hate that, and the talented ones will leave… quickly.

By contrast, great leaders assume responsibility and share the credit.

Give your team credit for great ideas, and you will always have a supply of great ideas.

4. Not validating effort

I’m an ‘outcomes’ kind of guy: let’s just get it done.

I’m fortunate to work with teams that have always produced outstanding results.

But in the process, I’ve learned not to underestimate or devalue the work it takes to reach the outcome.

Often as a leader, it takes 5 minutes to explain a project to a team member. What’s easy to miss is the amount of effort and hustle a team member puts into the project after that conversation happens. Leaders are notorious for thinking a project will take two hours when in reality, it takes 20.

What’s the best way to keep your team’s morale up in that case?

Simple: notice how hard they worked. Tell them you realize it took longer than everyone thought, that you saw how much they put into it, and you’re grateful.

Appreciating how hard your team works lets them know their work wasn’t in vain.

5. Demanding rather than asking

When you’re the boss, it can be easy to give orders.

That’s also a great way to lose team members.

While it may seem strange, never demand your team do anything. Ask instead.

“Could you take care of this project this afternoon?” feels 1000 times better than “I need you get this done by 4:00… no excuses. Got it?”

Your team will work harder and more effectively when they’re asked to do something than when told to do something. After all, don’t you respond the same way when you’re asked rather than told? Yes, of course you do.

Leaders who ask rather than demand end up with far more productive teams.

6. Showing ingratitude

Gratitude goes a long way in leadership.

Yes, people get paid. Yes, there is a certain expectation that goes along with receiving a pay check.

But in leadership, gratitude will get you much more than expectation.

Most people feel under-thanked and under-encouraged.

Leaders who encourage, who thank and who appreciate their team create a culture of gratitude and encouragement. It actually trickles through the entire organization. If you want to create a culture of gratitude and encouragement, then be the one to start it. You’re the leader. Your team will follow.

7. Unwilling to deal with the issues

Leadership is hard. One of the reasons it’s hard is because you have to deal with problems almost every day.

As a result, it’s easy to ignore long-standing issues, personnel problems, and systemic challenges because you just don’t want to go there.

If you love your team, go there.

Everyone knows there are issues. When you name the elephant in the room, tackle the non-urgent but high important stuff and create an optimal environment, everyone gets healthier.

Nothing gets healthier all by itself.  So deal with the issues you see before the illness becomes chronic.

What Do You See?

These are the top 7 ways I see leaders demoralize their teams.

What have you seen or experienced? Scroll down and leave a comment!

9 Comments

  1. Eric on April 20, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks for that next post, “15 ways to become a Kinder, Better Boss and human being”, Carey.
    Numbers 1, 2 & 13 are good starts about taking feedback.
    Any recommendations about self-awareness as an important qualification for leadership?

  2. Edson Sadialunda on April 20, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    As am reading these top 7 ways leaders demoralize their team, one thing stuck in mind is that indeed to lead people is not as simple as we imagine otherwise nothing can be achieved. But let me also pose a question, how do you deal with members who create problems now and then through actions and words up to the point that some members would rather choose to leave the church than being victims to these people.

  3. Janice Snyder on April 20, 2018 at 9:28 am

    Wow! This article would have been interesting to read when I was employed as the communications specialist at a faith-based senior living community during what the management team called CEO’s “the reign of terror”. His favorite phrase in describing himself was “servant leader”–only he was neither. Under “Not Articulating Expectations” he would mention upcoming events to Board members, but not stress the importance of their attendance. Then he would complain loud and long that they didn’t show up. Under “Holding others to standards you don’t follow” he would come in late, leave early, take up 2 parking spaces, took off 9 weeks for double knee replacement surgery–but did not charge himself PTO time. He was also a sexist bully. But when it came to showing ingratitude, the CEO actually was pretty generous with the “front line” staff, giving them gift cards at Christmas and once when gasoline was over $3 a gallon. The problem was that “generosity” always came at a price. At every Town Hall meeting, the entire staff (over 200) had to repeat after the CEO, “I am lucky to have a job.” The residents at the facility were wonderful. The staff I worked with were marvelous. The CEO is a scary narcissist. Both former and current staff have nightmares about him!!

    • Akintunde Akinfaloye on April 20, 2018 at 5:59 pm

      Food for thought for great leaders

  4. Eric on April 18, 2018 at 11:51 pm

    Hey Carey,

    Do you have a separate article about “taking feedback as a leader”?
    And, it would be good to talk about self-awareness as a qualification for leadership at some point.

  5. Adeline on April 18, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    I found it really challenging working in a team where the leader didn’t address one of the volunteer’s complaints, which resulted in a really bad attitude, which was also not addressed. Some jealousy also crept in when one of the volunteers moved into a leadership role, which worsened matters and the atmosphere became unbearable. The space I was working in was really dear to me, but I was exhausted after each shift (5-6 hours) just dealing with the negativity! The leader wouldn’t address it and the unhappy volunteer wasn’t letting up either. Two years on the unhappiness continues on – even with me trying to manage upwards and encouraging and building into the unhappy volunteer – the unhappy volunteer is unchanged. As a leader of a team, would there be a point where such a demoralizing effect is removed, or how do we deal with thi situation? It seems like some people spend all their lives being discontent and victims of their circumstance…

  6. Gary Whittaker on April 18, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Another might be Having A Cieling, where some leaders will not allow those below them to progress upward. Oddly, they were brought on because of leadership abilities and initiative. Sometimes it is fear, sometimes just cluelessness. But I’ve seen very talented and gifted servants wasted by the Cieling.

  7. Paul Cummings on April 18, 2018 at 8:57 am

    I have asked the pastor not to publicly recognize the work I have done, but the gratitude seems to get lost when I input slides for Sunday and they are suddenly changed. An individual thank you, instead of a criticism, i.e. the slides you are using are grainy on the screen – from where I was sitting at the back, in a booth, they looked fine to me. But they weren’t the slides being changed. As a result, and because I don’t have a second monitor to check how they appeared on the screen, it meant every slide I used, I had to walk to the front, check the screens to make sure the slide wasn’t grainy…..it doubled my workload. I call this micromanaging? The workload increases and expectations begin to increase. I am on a 6 month leave from all of my duties at the church, 1, because of ongoing health issues I was dealing with while volunteering, but 2, because after 4+ years being the only one doing input and a loving comment but a criticism at the same time, and what should have been a 15 hour week turning into 65 hours a week, I burnt out. My 6 month leave is over at the end of May and I’m not sure I want to go back to what I was doing, although that is the expectation. I have spoken to the Pastor and indicated it might not be the end of May when I return.

    Since leaving, the Pastor has taken on all of my responsibilities plus his own. He has 2 volunteers running the computer on Sunday displaying the slides but his ability to check the slides as I did, and properly train the volunteers hasn’t really happened well. I also created, spending hours doing it, a song library so volunteers I was training could just go slide to slide to slide when worship was happening Sunday morning but instead, the easier way has been taken which means one volunteer in particular, who is new to the church and doesn’t know the music, my go backwards to find a chorus or a verse being repeated by the worship team…When I attend on Sundays, it frustrates me so see the difficulty they are having which is very clear on the screen when appropriate lyrics don’t show on the screen at the proper time. Yet I am not willing at this point to do anything to change that or help.

    A long comment and I apologize – I am frustrated which tells me the burn out continues and although I continue to have intermittent communication with the pastor, I am not ready to do anything at this point, many Sundays not even attending church. What suggestions do you have Carey that might help me move beyond this. I recognize that church as my home, however, for the past 6 months or close to it, I have not attended often nor have I attended anything occurring over and above Sundays which I enjoyed doing at one time…..thanks Carey…

    • Linda Carlson on April 20, 2018 at 10:29 am

      Paul,
      Do some serious fasting and prayer for the Pastor, yourself, and the other volunteers in the next couple of weeks.

      Then, ask the Pastor if he is willing to allow you to be in charge of the program, or if he prefers to be the boss. At any rate, you’ll find out what’s the expectation of you and where you can fit in!

      If you’re willing to be in charge again, and the Pastor is willing to allow you to do it, schedule a meeting for a week or two before the end of May with the Pastor and the folks who have been helping in your place and the ones your were training before you left.

      At the meeting, lay out the situation. Thank the Pastor and the volunteers for giving you the break. Ask if you can take some responsibilities again. Ask the Pastor what his vision for the program is. Tell them about your vision for the organization of songs. Ask for others’ input. Ask each of the volunteers if they are willing to continue volunteering and what part they can play and seem to like and do the best at. Break the program down into several chunks and assign duties.

      If all goes well, you’ll know who’s in charge, have a team to share the work, and can work out details of each person’s duties. Be willing to train the volunteers so they can do their parts well. Work out the timing to have the songs submitted by the Pastor so there’s time to get things changed if needed, and still have a good finished product ready on time.

      The ultimate goal is to serve the congregation and lead them in worship. I pray that all will work out well for you!

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