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This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Most of the leaders I work with are focused on keeping their people committed and loyal because they know that engaged, empowered employees perform to their highest abilities and produce exceptional results. But every so often, I come across managers who seem hell bent on doing just the opposite. They say and do things that completely destroy their employees' self-confidence, drag down team morale, and create a negative working environment. Not surprisingly, their staff hate coming to work, and positivity and productivity plummets. In the interest of learning from failure, here is the definitive list of the five sure-fire ways to demotivate, demoralize and disempower your employees.

Never express appreciation

Don't acknowledge your staff for a job well done, don't praise them for any extra effort that goes above and beyond the usual baseline, and whatever you do, never say thank you. Why should you – they get paid, don't they? Isn't the paycheque thanks enough?

I say this tongue-in-cheek, of course, because expressing genuine frequent appreciation is one of the easiest (and most inexpensive) ways to build up people. The key to making appreciation and praise effective is to be specific. Instead of broad compliments, thank employees for explicit actions. "I appreciated the effort you put into gathering all the needed data" or "Thanks for staying late to get that important proposal finished" are far more likely to motivate an employee than a generic pat on the back.

Be rigid in the application of rules

Make sure to defer to "policy" at every opportunity to deny any request from your employees that requires flexibility in judgment. This is particularly easy if you work in a mid-sized to large organization, since the odds are that there is a policy manual (or two or three) kicking around.

C'mon, you achieved your position of leadership because you have a track record of making good decisions. So rely on that ability and don't fall into the "because it's policy" trap. Certainly, there are safety-related policies where breaking the rules can result in a serious consequences, so don't mess with those. But for all others, consider them guidelines in which you can exercise flexibility in judgment. Could there be fallout from the higher echelons because you went against policy? Sure, but treat those occasional situations as one of the intermittent hazards that arise in your role as a leader.

Don't tell them why

Issue edicts and commands to your staff without any explanations as to why. Even better if the proclamations come from above and you can simply pass them on to your people without making any effort to rationalize or clarify. "Just do what you're told" worked well enough when you were a child, so why shouldn't it work in the workplace?

Because adults not only appreciate insights into the reasoning behind decisions but also are more likely to commit to and act if they understand why. Take the time to explain to your team the logic behind your decisions. Do the same for seemingly senseless decrees from above, even if you don't necessarily agree with them yourself.


When you assign work to your staff, be sure to tell them how to do every step, and make sure that you check their work frequently along the way. This is even more important if you're working with trained and experienced team members. After all, your title is manager so why rely on their supposed skills and expertise?

Don't micro-manage. Because when you do, the message you are sending, loud and clear, is that you don't trust your employees, not only hugely demotivating to them, but also extremely time-consuming for you. Instead, focus on outcomes by asking yourself, "Will my input on how to [fill in the blank] change the result?" If the answer is no, then refrain from offering your advice on intricacies.

Take credit for the positive and assign blame for the negative

Your team's success is testament to your exceptional leadership, so make it a point to let others know, particularly those you want to impress. And when things go wrong, it's undoubtedly because of the incompetent and bungling staff you've been saddled with, so make sure you publicize that as well.

What you may not realize is that you actually diminish your credibility. Deliberate or unintentional, when you continually take credit for the positive and blame your staff for the negative, you look foolish in the eyes of your peers, and perhaps more importantly, you demonstrate disloyalty to your employees. If you want commitment from your people, then you need to show them the same kind of loyalty. Do the opposite – give credit to others for the positive and take ownership for the negative.

Merge Gupta-Sunderji (@mergespeaks) is a speaker and author who turns managers into leaders, drawing upon her more than 17 years of first-hand experience as a leader in corporate Canada. Reach her or join the conversations on her blog at

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