Disengaged employees? The problem could be you

Written by Kevin Murray CMgr CCMI Wednesday 31 March 2021
How you make the people in your team feel will determine how well they perform – cold and aloof managers, pay attention
Unlit match surrounded by burnt-out matches

Having an affective presence means you can positively influence the emotions of others, by being more emotionally in tune and expressive yourself. You have to win the hearts of followers and make them feel special.

We all have an emotional signature – how we leave people feeling after meeting us. If you want people to be positive about us and, more importantly, what we're trying to achieve, we need to develop the skills that will enable us to have a really positive presence. This means being able to project warmth, being attentive and fully present, displaying compassion and empathy, being appreciative and praiseful, respectful of others, and most important of all, being a really good listener. If you want to have a positive affect on others, you also need to know how to be inclusive, a good facilitator of creative conversations, someone who knows how to build relationships, and someone who is truly interested in others.

Everybody wants to feel important, and everybody wants to feel a valued member of a team. You only have to show that you have lost interest by looking at your smartphone, or letting your eyes glaze over, to make people feel like they don’t matter. If you don't smile when greeting them, you send powerful signals of coldness and aloofness. If you don't connect with employees on the issues that concern them, you display disinterest, and they are not going to like you very much at all. It is so easy to have a negative presence and too many leaders are completely unaware of the destruction they leave behind them after these sorts of bad encounters.

Making other people feel good is easy with just a little practice. When you are warm and approachable, people are more likely to embrace your ideas. It can be as simple as making eye contact and flashing a smile. It can be as difficult as giving someone your 100% focus, putting yourself in their shoes to truly understand their point of view.

Destructive behaviours

However, there are some behaviours managers unwittingly exhibit that are highly destructive to motivation, because they simply make people feel like they are not valued or respected. Here’s the checklist to avoid at all costs:

  1. Bad listeners are often bad managers – or worse, they either don't care or are simply unaware of that fact. They regularly show employees that they have no interest in their input and perspectives and treat their views with contempt or disdain. Sadly, the worst listeners often believe they are the best listeners; this is because they comprehend things quickly and get impatient or switch off. Those are exactly the behaviours that make others feel disrespected.
  2. Managers who show little empathy or compassion for members of their team will also have a hugely negative effect on morale and engagement. Even if a manager is simply expressionless while listening to troubles or woes, this can be interpreted as uncaring.
  3. Highly critical and vocal managers will seldom celebrate successes, and will relentlessly and publicly interrogate failures, never forgiving mistakes. They never offer second chances and can see no value in giving the benefit of the doubt to others.
  4. Some managers will constantly search for faults in employees and ignore their strengths. This kind of behaviour will make every new assignment, and every member of the team, feel very unsafe.
  5. Bad managers are disrespectful of everyone. They show contempt for their employees, their own bosses, and even their customers. Disrespect is contagious, and very soon members of the team will be disrespecting each other and disrespecting customers too, with disastrous consequences.
  6. Bad managers lack any charm and are cold and aloof. They are not interested in building relationships. They have no interest in the motivations and personal lives of their team members.
  7. Some managers are so goal-focused that they pay little attention to work/life balance, and their team members are constantly overworked with a high risk of burnout.
  8. Worst of all, bad managers are not inclusive. They exclude people from critical conversations. They have little tolerance for diversity. They prefer "birds of a feather" in their team and are not interested in teams that are built on a diversity of gender, race, culture, or nationality. Even if they have strongly diverse teams, bad managers make little effort to ensure that everyone is included in team discussions or decisions.

According to CMI research, as many as four out of five managers in the UK are accidental managers – those promoted to their role without adequate training. In the UK alone, that’s an estimated 2.4 million bosses. Imagine how many employees that affects? According to one estimate, less than half of all employees are satisfied with their manager. How many of them are feeling disengaged and demotivated?

Start upskilling today: CMI members can access thousands of resources through their membership, including ‘how to be a learning leader’ on ManagementDirect and a skills analysis tool on the Career Development Centre.

This is the third in a special series of articles by author and leadership expert Kevin Murray CMgr CCMI, in which he’ll examine some of the behaviours that kill trust, destroy conversations, create chaos and lead to highly demotivated teams. This article is drawn from research he did for his new book Charismatic Leadership: The skills you can learn to motivate high performance in others (published by Kogan Page). CMI members can save 20% on this book with the code CMI20.

Other articles in the series:

1. These five behaviours make you a bad boss

2. How to exude authority

3. Without cause or drive, managers destroy a sense of purpose

4. Poor persuaders kill conversations and innovation

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