Are you a discouraging leader?


This poor guy just got his confidence sapped by his discouraging leader. Look out when you cross the road!

“Yes, I know this year she volunteered 20 hours per week in a nursing home, saved 15 puppies from drowning, received stellar feedback from 20 clients, recruited 5 extraordinary staff, trained our whole team increasing productivity by 20% and won a Nobel prize…but that’s the high standard we would expect from all our employees. Let’s give her a 3 out of 5.”

I am a strong advocate of encouraging leadership to help people to achieve their goals. Especially if they have shown themselves to have potential, play well with others and have a good attitude. If someone showing this potential wants to try for a promotion because they think they can do the job, who am I to stand in their way as their manager? But there are those that show the opposite behaviour. They talk people down, try to “manage expectations” and prevent them from taking that next step.

Remember that “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. I play basketball myself and I personally only miss 80% of my shots. But what I’m saying is – encouraging leadership is convincing your staff to take that shot. When you are managing people who have potential and capability, encourage them by pulling them up towards you rather than pushing them down until they’re “ready”.

Why the discouraging leader exists

The discouraging leader is insecure

Insecurity is a beast hiding within all of us. Those who are captives of this beast will be fearful of letting their staff get closer to their level. I see this most often with people who lead people who are just one level lower than themselves. Perhaps they feel they wouldn’t be “the boss” anymore if they got promoted.

This is definitely the case in situations where younger staff are high achievers. The older manager likes to compare the situation to “when I was their age”. They use their own previous experience as an excuse to push somebody down. Well, times have changed.

This leads to the attitude at the top of this post – “they aren’t anything special, that’s the high performance we expect of all our staff”. Encouraging leadership isn’t being threatened by the achievement and potential of your staff. It’s getting out of the way.

The discouraging leader worries too much about the perceptions of others

If I advocate for my staff to be promoted, giving them positive reviews and encouraging them to try to take the next step, what if my peers and “superiors” don’t agree with me? I’ll look like an idiot won’t I? Much less risky to not ask the question at all.

If you’ve done your preparation and can present a coherent argument to support your staff in their effort to be promoted, you’ve done your job. Sure, if you can’t really explain why the promotion request should be granted, that’s just wishful thinking and won’t benefit anybody.

You also need to be careful that you aren’t seen to be a “serial promoter” – trying to push your staff upwards to please them all the time. This is not encouraging leadership. This may just introduce the perception that you are too easy to impress and are caving in to staff demands.

The best way to address this, in my opinion, is to have open and honest conversations about the progression of your staff. Waiting until performance review time to address these issues is likely to end in heightened tension and possibly disappointment for your team.

The discouraging leader fears losing great team members

What happens if your team member is promoted and no longer works in the role that they currently do? Will you struggle to find someone as good as them? It can be daunting when you realise that you’d have a big gap to fill in your team should your staff be promoted or transferred. Encouraging leadership is not standing in the way of aspirations.

It is fairly short-sighted to try to hold someone back because it will affect your performance. Continuing to do so will only demotivate your staff until they choose to leave. You’ll be in the same situation as if you had helped them achieve their goals!

Encouraging leadership is great. But there isn’t enough money for all these promotions!

OK, I get it – there is often a corporate reality involved in all this. If we promoted everybody and gave them big raises, we likely couldn’t even afford to run the business!

Nevertheless, the key here is transparency and honesty. Admittedly, you can’t promote everyone, but if you choose not to promote certain people, you should have a good reason which should be communicated to the people that miss out. I still see the “boys club” attitude in many workplaces where being male is a key criteria for success. This is not a good reason.

If it turns out that there are no opportunities available for promotion this year, it is your responsibility as a leader to communicate that to your staff so they are aware of the situation. You are dealing with people here. Stringing disgruntled staff along with false promises and misleading information will mean you eventually come unstuck. Well, I hope so, anyway. I have seen many cases where these leaders do NOT come unstuck, which is a shame indeed.

This reminds me of a Leunig cartoon in which a worker asks his boss “How do you sleep at night?” The boss replies:

“I sleep at night between silk sheets on a heated, king size auto-massage water bed with piped music on a very quiet street with a companion whose beauty would make you weep with desire”


It doesn’t really matter what you think

I like to think of it this way – I have two options. I can stand in the way of my staff for no good reason, resisting their efforts to achieve greater things. Alternatively, I can support them and attempt to help get them to where they want to go.

If I choose to stand in their way, they will likely find an opportunity somewhere else. If I choose to encourage them, then they will feel good that somebody had faith in them, whether they succeeded or not.

I choose to be someone who tries to encourage my team and put my personal insecurities aside. What do you choose to be?

Are you being held down by your boss or know somebody who is? Leave a comment!

By |2018-07-22T09:39:10+00:00November 8th, 2015|Motivation|

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