Managers Who Motivate, Not Demoralize

Dianna Booher

Managers Who Motivate, Not Demoralize

Have you ever met a manager who intended to motivate staff but instead demoralized them?  Most have no idea of their negative effect. And that’s definitely not their intention. In talking with such managers or those who report to them, what surfaces are habits, attitudes, practices, and skill deficiencies that lead employees to disrespect, disengage, and decide to leave them for a more pleasant workplace.

When some executive at the top of the organization notices that a manager is struggling to keep good people and suggests that manager engage us for communication coaching, it doesn’t take long in our interviewing process before we observe troubling communication patterns and habits.  Similar stories appear with regularity.  

Personal accounts (often from the perplexed managers themselves trying to pinpoint the reason for their ineffectiveness) present striking differences in two categories of people.

Demoralizing managers dole out information in bits and pieces—as if they were a parent, parceling out only what they thought their “children” were able to handle at the moment.

Motivating managers communicate the big picture.


Demoralizing managers focus on the how. They fear that if they offer the why, people might ask questions or challenge decisions.

Motivating managers explain the why behind decisions, projects, and tasks.


Demoralizing managers discourage questions and see them as timewasters and challenges to authority.

Motivating managers welcome questions as an avenue for collaboration, engagement, and innovation.


Demoralizing managers assign projects or tasks at machine-gun speed and disappear from the scene.

Motivating managers delegate projects or tasks at a reasonable pace and take care that you understand the assignment and have the resources to reach the goal.


Demoralizing managers hire people they perceive to be less capable than they themselves, and spend time defining acceptable boundaries.

Motivating managers hire people smarter than they are, push them to think creatively, and challenge them to grow and contribute to their full capacity.


Demoralizing managers often communicate indirectly, make assumptions about what you know, and leave you guessing about their standards and expectations.

Motivating managers communicate their expectations directly, clearly, confidently.


Demoralizing managers communicate inconsistently, infrequently, and impersonally.  And when you do hear from them, the communication is typically “bad news” or negative feedback.

Motivating managers communicate personally, regularly, and consistently, in both good times and bad.


Demoralizing managers cost a fortune in absenteeism and turnover, while motivating managers are a magnet for their organization.