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How to Avoid Negative, Morale-Destroying Leadership Styles

Human Resources

Managers often underestimate the impact that their various leadership styles can have on employees. They don't see—often until it’s too late—how pervasive their influence can be on worker morale and productivity. But research demonstrates the effect of negative leadership styles on an employee's attitude toward his or her workplace. In a study sponsored by TellYourBoss.com, 65 percent of respondents said "a better boss would make them happy," a substantial majority over those citing a pay raise as their first choice (35 percent).

Does your leadership style contain negative qualities that are discouraging employees, rather than motivating them to do better at their jobs? Here are several commonly noted managerial styles to avoid whenever possible:

Arrogant, Know-It-All, and Bossy 

Some managers adopt an outwardly arrogant style in order to purposefully or subconsciously mask insecurity about their own leadership skills and abilities. They act as if only they can handle the demands of the workplace, or suggest that only they have the in-depth knowledge required to solve problems as they arise. This may manifest itself in a tendency to excessively issue orders, rather than allowing employees to address issues on their own. An unwillingness to invite employee ideas is another symptom of this unhealthy approach to management.

Poor Communication Skills 

It's essential that a manager can effectively communicate with employees. Poor communication skills often appear in these forms:

  • Over-reliance on emails. Managers who either don't like talking with employees or who are aware of deficiencies in this area too often resort to email messages. In situations where clear meaning is necessary (for example, when offering constructive feedback), emails are a poor medium for communications, as they're both impersonal and easily misinterpreted.
  • Emotional outbursts. Some managers allow emotions to cloud their communication with employees, and may lash out when they're angry instead of giving themselves time to cool down before talking.
  • Withholding information. Still others hold back important information, thus engendering a lack of trust among employees in the workplace.

Whatever the communication issue, if allowed to go unchecked, the result can lead to ongoing confusion about job responsibilities and insecurity about job performance - situations that can often lead to employee turnover.

In situations where clear meaning is necessary (e.g. offering constructive feedback), emails are a poor medium for communications, as they're both impersonal and easily misinterpreted.

Indecision and Lack of Organization 

Managers who are unable or unwilling to make a decision on critical matters can trigger uncertainty among those they purport to lead. Employees generally are not motivated by a manager's lack of self-confidence. A manager who's disorganized in both everyday activities (forgetting a meeting, showing up late for a performance review, etc.) is also unlikely to inspire employees to be productive.

Complacency and Resistance to Change 

For some managers, if they don't hear about an issue from their employees, they'll assume that none exist. Employees faced with this form of leadership complacency can be unwilling to step forward and voice a complaint, however urgent or serious. In the same respect, a manager who's openly resistant to change will influence employees to adopt the same attitude - precisely the opposite attitude of what any company intent on meeting change directly wishes to convey.

Willingness to Bend the Rules 

Adhering to the highest standards of ethical conduct is often a key value for a successful company culture. A manager who's open to skirting regulations to ease the process (or for some type of personal gain) will certainly lose the respect of more honest employees. Or worse, this type of "sort of ethical" behavior will suggest to employees that they might get away with bending the rules as well.

Adhering to the highest standards of ethical conduct is often a key value for a successful company culture.

Never Recognizes the Contributions of Others 

Managers who fail to recognize employee contributions exhibit some of the worst leadership styles, while those who actively claim credit for job achievements they had nothing to do with may be even more destructive. Either approach can lead to poor employee morale, in which case greater productivity and initiative are likely out of the question.

Few managers display most of these behaviors, but all should be aware of any tendency to slip into negative leadership styles. Remember just how much influence you possess in the workplace, and tailor your style to emphasize the positive at all times. "As a manager, you wield a tremendous amount of power," notes business author Kathleen Brush. "You can be an incredibly negative power or a positive one who's looked up to by both peers and employees."


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.