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How to Demotivate your Teams, Every Time, Guaranteed - and How to Avoid This

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The Executive Summary:

  1. Criticising, condemning, and complaining about team members will demotivate them - guaranteed.

  2. Even silent criticism will affect a leader's behaviour towards their team members, and won't resolve matters.

  3. Instead of criticism, good leaders communicate expectations explicitly, determine desired behaviours, and treat others with respect.

If you want to demotivate your team, then criticising, condemning them and complaining about them is a guaranteed way to achieve it. If you do it really well, you’ll add in sarcasm, you won’t mention specific work-related behaviours or tell them what you want them to do instead of the, presumably disappointing, behaviour or outcomes you’ve witnessed. Even better, do it in public, and really try to shame and embarrass them.

We all know how we respond when this happens to us. We may adjust our behaviour, but we’ll do it begrudgingly and we’ll never forget how they made us feel (as Maya Angelou famously said). Worse still, they’ve broken our trust which means we’re far less likely to take risks, stretch our capability or to stay with them through bad times lets alone good.

‘Don’t criticise, condemn or complain’ is Principle no 1 of Dale Carnegie’s book, ‘How to win friends and influence people’. I learned this principle when I was training to a Dale Carnegie trainer, and we had to learn and memorise all 30 principles from this book. This one, above all the rest, has stayed with me, nagged at me and has perhaps taught me more than all the rest put together.

‘I don’t criticise, condemn or complain’, I thought. And then I’d reflect, ‘well maybe not aloud’. But if I’m doing it (even silently), then I must be thinking it, and if I’m thinking it, it’s probably affecting my behaviour towards the other person. And then I had a profound thought, that I had to really ponder on, ‘What gives me the right to criticise someone else?’ What gives me the right to believe I’m better than them?

I did believe I had the right to discuss and agree expectations, and to let people know if my expectations hadn’t been met (although I didn’t master the skills for this until I did the Liberating Leadership Programme, and I’m still working on improving this).

What I learned through Liberating Leadership was instead of criticising, condemning or complaining, there were 3 key things I needed to do instead:

  1. To take responsibility for being really explicit in communicating and agreeing my expectations of the other person. How can I criticise, condemn or complain, if I’ve not been clear in the first place, or if I’ve incorrectly assessed your ability or willingness to do these things, especially if it’s sufficiently urgent or important that I’d feel the need to do any of these things afterwards?

  2. Instead of these 3 things, determine the behaviour that I want to see instead. E.g. instead of not communicating what you’re doing, and not taking care to avoid damaging objects near your working area, please keep me informed of when you’re expecting to be on site, and please go the extra mile and cover up all objects that may be affected by the work you’re doing on our house.

  3. Always treat the other person as an equal, who deserves my respect, courtesy and honesty. I can, and should express my feelings appropriately, e.g. “I’m really frustrated, or disappointed, because you said you’d take care to cover the gutters and windows, and yet the extractor fan wasn’t covered up and is now broken.” But this is not about making the other person feel shamed or less than me, it’s about treating them as an equal and being explicit and courteous in explaining my feelings, my expectations, what I want them to do instead and giving them a chance to put it right.


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