Leadership

The Disease of Destructive Management—6 Symptoms to Look Out For

Destructive management is like a plague on a productive workplace—would you know the symptoms? In today’s Training Daily Advisor, we learn about the top signs that management is killing morale from Shawn Murphy, CEO and founder of Switch & Shift, an organization dedicated to the advancement of human-centered organizational practices and leadership.

In many workplaces today, employees are expected to do more with less—but is this nose-to-the-grindstone philosophy the best way to run a business? Startlingly low engagement numbers indicate otherwise. So, if pushing everyone harder isn’t the path to productivity, what is?

In his new book The Optimistic Workplace: Creating an Environment that Energizes Everyone, Murphy tackles the challenge and argues that our best work is the product of a positive environment. “How it feels to work within an organization is a critical workforce development issue. We need more leaders who are willing to choose to set a positive tone for their teams despite what senior management isn’t doing.”

Destructive management is like a disease, draining people and infecting the whole workplace. Murphy identifies six core symptoms of destructive management—leadership practices that crush workplace optimism:

  • Symptom 1: Blind impact. Leaders who are unaware of how their actions, attitude, and words impact others can damage any opportunity for workplace optimism. They consistently underestimate people’s value and often fail to connect the dots between employees’ work and organizational direction.
  • Symptom 2: Antisocial leadership. Antisocial leaders lack the ability to encourage, build, and evolve a community of people united by a shared purpose. Autocratic and even distrustful of people, they often dictate what workers should do and rarely praise or even credit them for their good work. Creating a void of connectedness, this symptom tends to leave people feeling used.


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  • Symptom 3: Chronic change resistance. What’s destructive about this symptom is these leaders’ unwillingness to initiate change to help their team and organization remain relevant. If change is adopted, it’s usually late in the adoption curve. With this leader in charge, only incremental change is possible.
  • Symptom 4: Profit myopia. Leaders with profit myopia cling to the outdated belief that profit is the only successful measure. Their teams chase solutions that satisfy shareholders or short term goals, alienating customers and employees. Taking a chink out of the optimistic workplace is this leader’s narrow focus on his own personal income and rewards.


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  • Symptom 5: Constipated inspiration. When these leaders are too focused on their own needs and insecurities, they give little attention to what their employees experience at work. As a result, they don’t see what inspires or demotivates employees. This symptom stems from ignorance of personal values. When leaders know what they stand for, they have greater capacity for learning about the people on the team.
  • Symptom 6: Silo syndrome. Leaders afflicted with silo syndrome cannot see beyond their immediate responsibilities or see how work affects employees’ family lives. Also common is seeing people merely as a role—for example, that people in sales know nothing about marketing. This mental shortcut makes it easy for leaders to devalue, disrespect, or ignore employees, which makes it impossible for optimism to thrive.

“Overcoming resistance, deepening personal interest, motivation, commitment, and loyalty—all of these things are possible when you deliberately and strategically focus real effort and make employee optimism a real and measurable metric,” Murphy says. “You can position employees to believe that work is a bright spot in their life.”

In tomorrow’s Advisor, Murphy presents some strategies for healing the disease of destructive management.