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10 Ways to Destroy Team Morale

10 Ways to Destroy Team Morale

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Article by Peter Barron Stark

In the world of executive coaching, you get to witness the highs and lows of leadership. Here’s an example of a low: I am working with a team that recently hired a new leader. Through one-on-one interviews, I have witnessed the devastating impact one leader can have on the spirit and morale of a team in just 90 days.

If destroying the motivation and spirit of your team is your goal, then I have the prescription for you below. If, however, you value the spirit and motivation of your team, then here are 10 actions you need to avoid at all costs:


Make looking good in the eyes of your boss your primary goal. If your goal is to make sure your boss knows how lucky (s)he is to have hired you, promote all the good things you do while also making sure your boss is well aware of everyone else’s shortcomings.


Tell your new team how great your last organization was, and describe all the wonderful things you accomplished. If you want to ice the cake, tell your team that if they just do what you tell them to do, they can be just as great as your last team. When you tell people about your fantastic past, your new team members are left with two questions:

  • If your last organization was so good, why did you leave?
  • If your last organization was so good, why don’t you go back?


Pit one employee against another. If everyone is working together as a united team, there is less need for an ineffective leader. If you can divide and conquer, it is a lot easier to feel needed as the leader of a dysfunctional team.


Communicate poorly. If you don’t communicate needed information in a timely manner, it makes it difficult for team members to make decisions. If team members cannot effectively make decisions, it once again proves that an ineffective leader is needed.


Play favorites. When you treat people differently, you do not hold people equally accountable. Support the people who kiss up to you, and make life hell for the people who challenge you. This uneven accountability will guarantee that people will consider you an unfair leader.


Be unprofessional. Yell at people; be disrespectful to your direct reports; swear; talk about one team member negatively to another team member behind their back; threaten people with their job. Any one of these behaviors is devastating to a team. Combine these behaviors and you are positively guaranteed to destroy morale.


Withhold positive recognition. Negative leaders tend to believe that if they are not communicating with their team members, then they must be doing a decent job. With this philosophy, you don’t have time to give positive feedback, but you will always find the time to tell team members what they are doing wrong.


Resent feedback. Since sabotaging leaders tend to not take responsibility for their actions, they are likely to resent those who give them feedback meant to help them improve. I once told a leader, “You may not agree with what others are telling you on your 360 Leadership Development Assessment, but, if 14 people are telling you that you have a tail, you might want to turn around and take a look.”


Do not trust your team members. When you don’t trust others, don’t communicate important information, and don’t delegate, you both directly and indirectly tell people you don’t trust them to get the job done. When a leader does not trust team members, they usually stop giving them opportunities to grow. In return, employees stop trusting the leader.


Stay. Historically, bad leaders do not leave. Instead, they tend to feel it is their mission in life to tell people how bad things really are, and how if it weren’t for him/her, the organization would be even worse off. In this bad environment, all the people in the office and/or department are unhappy, including the leader.


Even great leaders exhibit some of these behaviors once in a while. What kills morale, however, is when a leader consistently exhibits one or more of these behaviors. Most people are quick to forgive if a leader slips once in a while, and demonstrates an undermining behavior. They are even quicker to forgive if the leader quickly apologizes and never practices the behavior again. To be a great leader, be mindful of the way you treat employees, and listen to feedback from your team. Nevertheless, be sure to keep these behaviors in check to ensure an engaged, successful and highly motivated team.

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