Motivating Force? How Bosses Unintentionally Alienate Their Employees

You have no doubt read countless articles and books on how to motivate others, be it your employees, team or for that matter your school aged son or daughter to do their homework.

Conversely, and while perhaps not as plentiful as the “how to” motivate texts, there are also plenty of articles on what “not to do”, to ensure that those around you can perform at their peak capability.

Things along the lines of don’t yell at your employees, don’t forget to compliment someone on a job well done or, ensure that your words and actions are consistent with one another.

It is pretty basic (and logical) advice. In fact, I would be surprised if everyone did not know this.

However, and like an American Idol hopeful who hasn’t yet realized or accepted the fact that they cannot sing, common knowledge is not always well . . . common. Even when we already know what to do – or not to do, we can sometimes lose our way.

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For example, consider the story about Randy, to whom I referred in my book The Future Of You.

Randy was scheduled for a major promotion when he was asked to launch a new division for his company. This project, which had to be completed within twelve months, represented a critical opportunity for Randy on many levels. To start, he would be able to demonstrate why he had earned upper management’s confidence. In addition, he would then be responsible for a huge number of diverse reports, opening the door for expanding both his creditability and respect for those who would ultimately report to him once he assumed his new position. It seemed like an ideal scenario.

However – and this is where he came to the fork in the road that differentiates a selfless leader from a self-serving leader – Randy forgot an essential leadership quality. Specifically, he just needed to be inclusive and recognize the contributions of others as absolute “must haves” in order to rally the team and reinforce management’s decision to promote him.

I think that it is important to point out here that Randy was not by nature, selfish or egotistical. He was however driven to succeed and to advance the interests of his company. In other words, his intentions were selfless, but his actions demonstrated something quite different.

Even though the project was successfully completed in eight months as opposed to the estimated twelve months – with an overall savings of $350,000.00 – Randy’s promotion was nixed. When the CEO delivered the bad news, Randy was told that “no one ever wants to work with you again.”

In sharing Randy’s story I could not help but wonder what might have been different in terms of outcomes given the following scenarios.

For example, what if his company had not been in touch with the feelings of the employees who had a problem with Randy’s management style, or worse yet, didn’t care. He did after all get the job done early and significantly under budget. What if this was their only criteria for his promotion?

As I had indicated previously, while in his enthusiasm to meet the project’s goals he lost sight of the big picture, Randy was not a mean spirited, selfish individual. However, if the company had an ends justify the means or just do it mindset, he would have likely been been promoted despite the negative employee feedback. If this had been the case, what would have the consequences been down the road?

Conversely, and again taking into account Randy’s true personality, what if an employee had taken the initiative to talk with him to let him know how his actions were negatively affecting the other members of his team? Might he had called a meeting to clear the air, and then made the required adjustments in his management style going forward?

The real question in this instance is whether or not an employee would actually approach their boss under similar circumstances? Would you?

My point is simply this, Randy’s sole focus on achieving the best results for his company unintentionally alienated his fellow workers. While he has to take ownership for his actions, and the resulting consequences, everyone ultimately lost out in the end.

Randy of course lost the promotion, and the confidence of his bosses. Once lost, it is difficult if not impossible to regain that trust. With limited possibilities, Randy would eventually have to move on to a new company.

Ironically, the company demotivated a top performing employee and potential future leader, by not mentoring Randy. After all, in the time he had been with the company leading up to the fateful project, senior management knew who he was and saw enough in him to want to promote him. If his behavior during the project had dramatically changed, why didn’t they step in?

As for the employees, while not direct, the loss of a valuable contributor to the company’s success if multiplied, could spell trouble down the road. If we have learned anything from books such as Jim Collins’ Good To Great or Built To Last, success today does not guarantee survival tomorrow. Companies – even the ones that are doing well today – will not be around if they lose quality people.

In what other ways can you see a boss unintentionally demotivate or alienate their employees?

Regardless of the situation, awareness, coupled with timely open and honest communication is critical.

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If you are a manager, take the time to talk with the members of your team who report to you. Get their feedback on your management style, and their overall feeling regarding the company’s direction.

If you are an employee, don’t assume that your boss’ actions are intentional. Like Randy, maybe he or she has lost touch amid the demands of an important project or assignment.

For companies, and specifically senior leadership, it is important to be plugged inrelative to having an accurate read regarding employee morale. If you see that there is a problem brewing between a manager and members of their team, be prepared to step in and provide both leadership and mentorship where and when it is needed.

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2 responses to “Motivating Force? How Bosses Unintentionally Alienate Their Employees”

  1. Jim Trunick says :

    Sadly, in many companies, if the boss is tyrannical, ruthless, hard charging over people, lacks emotional intelligence and people don’t want to work for them – It Doesn’t Matter – if the results are there, and people aren’t leaving, then nothing will change, and the boss will get that promotion. Even if people say the hate the boss – and then still stay on that bosses team – senior management, like wall street and grades from Harvard simply measure the results, not how much we grouse about the bad boss. I agree with Jim Collins, and your comments here Roz, about engagement, and getting more long term success through better employee treatment – it just doesn’t always work that way.

    • rozcoach says :

      Jim, as always, I always appreciate your perspectives. I have seen where bad behavior is still rewarded, regardless of a manager’s lack of emotional intelligence or tyrannical leadership style. Perhaps getting this message out will alert leadership that who they promote is representative of their own values and culture as well. You cannot build a healthy culture when employees are not respected or valued. In the long term, I believe that poor decisions to promote individuals only on results regardless of their style is a bad long term decision. At some point, good people leave. Certainly this will surface and deter talented individuals from coming on board.

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