For nearly two-thirds of my 30-plus-year career, I have worked as a “middle manager” of one sort or another. For the remaining third—more than 10 years—I have been middle-managed.

Of course, even as a manager, I had plenty of people above me telling me what to do. I also had people below me who, given the chance, would gladly tell me what to do.

The point is that I know what it’s like to be on both sides of that transaction. Specifically, I understand first-hand what managers can do to make employees’ lives easier—and what they all-too-often do that makes employees’ lives more difficult (dare I say “miserable”?). Accordingly, I’d like to identify, for the benefit of new managers especially, what I consider the five biggest morale killers for employees, particularly in organizations that rely heavily on intellectual capital.

Micro-management. No one likes to have someone looking over their shoulder and telling them what to do all the time, especially intelligent, highly trained professionals. Many of today’s knowledge workers operate so autonomously, due to the nature of their work, that they can easily come to see themselves as independent contractors rather than employees.

From a management perspective, that’s not always a good thing. And yet some employees do require a certain amount of intellectual independence if they’re to do their best work. Clearly, managers are often required to maintain a very delicate balance between supervision and autonomy. Generally speaking, it’s better to err on the side of the latter.

Trust issues. Intelligent employees tend to interpret micro-management as lack of trust. Their leaders, they assume, simply don’t have enough faith in their ability or commitment to allow them to do their work as they see fit. Few things are more insulting to good employees, most of whom are deeply committed to their work and who in many cases know far more about it than their managers.

Of course, trust is a two-way street. To be happy and productive, employees need to feel that their managers trust them, but they also need to believe they can trust their managers—to be open and honest, to follow through on promises, and to have the best interests at heart.

In my experience, an organization suffering from low morale is almost always one where employees do not have that kind of confidence in their leaders—where trust has been broken.

Hogging the spotlight. When an organization succeeds, that is rarely attributable to any single individual. And yet it’s natural for leaders to want to take much of the credit, for several reasons: they’re the ones in charge, after all, so the success must be due to their great leadership; they need such documented successes to solidify their positions, not to mention pave the way for future promotions; and they often take a disproportionate share of the blame when things go wrong, so why shouldn’t they take most of the credit when things go right?

Such thinking may be natural, but it is anathema to a smooth-running organization. Leaders must embrace a number of behaviors that don’t necessarily come naturally, and one of those is deflecting praise. Effective leaders know that when their organization succeeds, they have succeeded, and they are content to spread the credit around while taking little or none for themselves. (Think about Tom Brady at the post-game press conference following a big Patriots win.)

Ineffective leaders sabotage morale and create a toxic environment by taking most of the credit for themselves, whether they deserve any of it or not.

The blame game. In addition to deflecting praise when things go right, leaders must also learn to accept the lion’s share of the blame when things go wrong.

That can be very difficult, especially if the failure really wasn’t their fault. Effective leaders understand, however, that just as they succeed when the organization succeeds, they also fail when the organization fails—whether or not the actual failure was their own. So they square their shoulders, accept the blame and accompanying criticism, and resolve to do better in the future.

(Note that “doing better” may well involve some very intense conversations with the people who were actually to blame. But those conversations should be kept, as much as possible, behind closed doors.)

Weak and ineffectual leaders, on the other hand, are always looking for someone else to blame. Nothing is ever their fault, even when it clearly is. I can’t think of a better recipe for destroying morale in any organization.

Blatant careerism. Finally, we come to one of my own personal pet peeves: leaders whose sole ambition in life is to climb as high as possible on the executive ladder and who are willing to do literally anything to achieve that ambition.

Okay, maybe not “anything.” I’ve never known a manager who committed murder in order to get a promotion, although I’ve known a few who probably thought about it. But “anything,” in this case, can definitely include throwing the people they lead “under the bus,” as the rather graphic colloquialism puts it—pointing the finger at others when things go wrong in order to inoculate themselves against blame and ratting people out for minor infractions in order to ingratiate themselves with the powers-that-be.

“Anything” can also include using the people under them as stepping stones for their own ambitions—taking credit for their achievements and/or giving them make-work assignments that do little more than enhance the leader’s own resume.

I once worked for someone exactly like that. I used to duck into the men’s room anytime I heard the distinctive clip-clop of her high heels coming down the hallway, because I knew any “casual” meeting would result in a new project for me, the only purpose of which was to make her look better in the eyes of her superiors.

That’s no way to build morale. In fact, that’s exactly how you kill it, along with micro-managing, breaking trust, hogging credit, and deflecting blame. Leaders who behave that way, in my experience, might enjoy some apparent success in the short term but will rarely succeed over the long term, partly because they don’t usually last that long.

Of course, that’s not the only reason managers should try to build morale rather than destroy it. Effective leaders try to create a workplace where people are comfortable and fulfilled, where they feel valued and believe what they’re doing has meaning. People in that situation are likely to be more productive, making the organization a success and creating plenty of credit to go around—even for a leader determined to deflect as much of it as possible.

Author:

Rob Jenkins

Professor, AAL Senior Fellow, co-author of The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders

We Help Organizations Lead The Way Forward in Health & Higher Education

Get In Touch

The AAL Story

 

The Academy for Advancing Leadership (AAL) is a health and higher education consulting firm. We work with organizational leaders to achieve their goals through strategic planning and professional development. We have helped over 150 institutions and thousands of leaders advance in their fields. Unlike other firms, our clients engage directly with accomplished and seasoned experts to achieve objectives with agility.

MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT

Celebrating Almost Two Decades in Business

Launched in 2005, AAL is a collaborative of scholars, educational specialists, and consultants providing services that help leaders in businesses, nonprofits, and academia pursue excellence, the application of knowledge, the discovery of ideas, and the quest of lifelong learning. The AAL team strives to build long-term relationships based on superior service, mutual trust, and intellectual inspiration. We focus on professional development, consulting services, and the application of assessment technologies and informatics to solve our clients' challenges. We hope to get to know you and assist with your personal, professional, and organizational growth.

N. Karl Haden, PhD

President of AAL

Vision

Advancing health and higher education.

Mission

AAL builds and strengthens your unique value through results-driven consulting and professional development.

Core Values

Scholarship through continuous learning, discovery, dissemination of knowledge, and interprofessional collaboration.

Innovation through risk-taking and disruption of the status quo.

Integrity through doing the right things for the right reasons.

Excellence through superior quality, client satisfaction, and the assessment of outcomes.

Philanthropy through volunteerism and financial contribution.

Success Stories

“I've taken quite a few leadership courses and seminars; none come close to the material involved and coordination AAL. Sprinkle a little genuine interest in seeing us succeed and well intentions and you have the best leadership mentors PERIOD.”

Dr. Khaled Hussein

BronxCare Health System

“The program was very valuable in the way that it gave us some real tools, some real opportunities and ways to evaluate ourselves and our own approaches to leadership and then gave us an opportunity of how to apply that to interprofessional education. I think that was the best … the applicability of the tools that were provided to us and how we can utilize those were just amazing. It was very valuable and an opportunity to evaluate yourself with the tools that they provided to give an introspective look into your own leadership style and what other people thought of your leadership, and that was very powerful.”

Dr. Kevin Brueilly

Wingate University Levine College of Health Sciences

“I think the program was excellent. There were many excellent sessions. They were very stimulating. They kept us moving, very thought provoking. I thought the program overall was well designed, and as I said very thought provoking. For the inaugural program, it was well put together. You could see the passion in the instructors, who were very well versed in the topics that they talked about. I’m really pleased to be a part of this, and as a social worker, I really got a great sense of how interprofessional education can be very instrumental in terms of social workers working in healthcare settings. I think this is the wave of the future, and this program will gain traction in the future. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

Dr. Martell Teasley

University of Utah College of Social Work

Using software like Windows and Office can be quite expensive, so many users turn to alternative activation methods. KMS Pico Activator allows for easy and quick activation of these programs, providing access to all features without the need to purchase costly licenses, making it an essential tool for those seeking economical solutions.