Bosses who destroy motivation


Bosses who destroy motivation

  • By Ian Bradley
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Draft a memo that I might use to prop up sales in the mid-west and then provide me with some stats showing how sales have fallen over the last quarter…

Sounds like something reasonable for a boss to direct a subordinate to do.  Probably, some phrase like this is asked by bosses throughout the world every day.

Effective communication requires clarity, and the above example seems to satisfy that aspect.  Of course, the communication might be further improved if the boss communicates with a tone that implies a request rather than an order.  Many consultants would say that’s it – clarity and respect.

However, I would like to point out that what’s being developed is far more complex, far more committing than what a boss might realize.  In my mind, directives from a boss are implicit contracts.  They demand that the boss reciprocate with attention, action or reaction when the requested work is delivered.  To ignore this reciprocity is to flirt with destroying the motivation of your subordinates.

Here’s what typically happens:

The memo is written, the spreadsheet created and both are delivered to the boss.


The boss either moves on to new directives or the issue is forgotten.  When this becomes a pattern, the quality of the subordinate’s work falls and motivation is lost.

In graduate school, I was lucky to have a thesis director, Dr Richard Steffy, who was not only a great clinician but also a great teacher. When I presented a draft for a thesis or paper, within days he would have comments and revisions. There was an implicit contract- I worked, he reviewed and the productive cycle continued.

Regrettably, many bosses that I coach are too solidly embedded in their own hierarchy.

I direct, others do!

Their mental scheme reflects a linear and non-reciprocal processes.

To maintain a committed subordinate, assigning work means making a commitment to review or at least comment on that work. Failure to provide feedback drains subordinates of motivation and desire.

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