How Managers Create Low Morale

Everyone knows that the sports team with the highest morale wins. Dejected athletes can’t beat their opponent, heads hanging low isn’t in the coach’s playbook.

Certainly some teams pull off the win, but they are rightfully considered lucky — the other team was not performing well. They know that next time this will not work.

And indeed, every manager in a company wants the same thing – a team with high morale – super charged up to do great things every single day. High morale is required to obtain and sustain peak performance. But the deck is stacked against us as managers. Societal, educational and workplace related influences have taught us to inflict a top-down, command and control management style on the people working for us.

That management style is what creates low morale and severely damages employee motivation.

It starts at birth. Most of us are told what to do through our childhood. We receive a rather overwhelming number of orders, directions, rules and policies from those who believe we should follow their dictates — parents, teachers, churches, government and finally our bosses at work.

Having been literally bombarded with this management style, it is unsurprising that the vast majority of managers adopt it as their own.

Our educational system is of little help. It is excellent at teaching management of “things” like engineering, marketing, finances, supply chain, and quality, but rarely are the soft skills of leadership, like listen, taught. And the skills or tools learned for managing “things” actually reinforce the authoritarian approach to managing people.

Unfortunately, no one likes to take orders and even if we never vocalize it, deep-down we all find orders to be demeaning, degrading and disrespectful. This teaches and leads many employees to disrespect their customers, their work, each other and bosses to some extent.

In addition, employees also feel demeaned and degraded if no one listens carefully to their ideas and whatever else they have to say. Every human has a need to be able to share his or her ideas and insights – to put in their two cents – and are turned off if not able to do so.

The underlying rule of the command and control model is that employees must listen to people in positions of power, the leaders, and that the leaders mainly have no need to listen to employees. This results in managers spending most of their time trying to figure out their next order, goal or targets that they themselves defined. Operating like this means managers rarely if ever take the time to really listen to their people.

Communication shuts down in too many areas like this, causing workplace problems to go unheard and unresolved. Facts are lost or muddled and without the facts, orders and directives from managers miss the mark and more often exacerbate the real problems. This leads employees to distrust and disrespect management and causes morale to drop further.

It is tough to remain motivated in such an environment, right?

Management isn’t listening or is partially listening sometimes; the dialog between managers and employees is poor. This also means employees are not receiving information that only the manager has and is necessary to being able to understand the true cause of problems or the seriousness of them.

Lacking this information, employee expectations and criticisms are quite often unrealistic, thus causing the manager to disrespect or distrust employees.

Think about that. When you sense someone in a position of power over your job and paycheck doesn’t trust you or doesn’t respect your opinion, how does that make you feel? Certainly not great and potentially seeking another position.

So then how do managers create low morale? They do it by using an authoritarian based command and control management style. You hear me say this often. It is the wrong model to use.

I spent 12 years stuck in the authoritarian model and when I say stuck, I mean with lower morale and performance than I even knew was possible. When I finally switched to value-driven leadership where I was the Supporter-in-Chief and not the Chief Giver of Orders, Directives and Delegation of Tasks and Goals, morale jumped and performance soared. People commented openly about how they loved to come to work.

In short, if you want a high performing team, you need morale to be high. If you want morale high, don’t be a micro-managing autocratic type – do the opposite.

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Ben Simonton

Ben Simonton Managed diverse groups for 34+ years, including as an executive in charge of a 1,300 person unionized organization. He made all the managing mistakes one can make, then devised solutions for 99.9% of people management issues. His mission is to take you beyond great to exceptional.