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Smarter Strategies to Motivate Staff

Smarter Leadership Strategies to Motivate Staff

Welcome to our latest edition! This issue illustrates the downstream effect of leadership in a real-life case study. We show the subtle factors in play in the leadership process infographic and offer specific solutions to radically improve staff motivation through the quality of leadership. To improve the quality of your leadership, and the environment in which staff motivation can grow, contact me on
Spotlight on:

Downstream Effect of Leadership

A leader influences the way we view ourselves, our workplace attitudes and behaviours. Julian Barling calls this the ‘downstream effect of leadership’. According to Barling, leadership aims to have indirect positive effects on important employee and organizational outcomes and how these occur. At SYNQUITY we believe that leadership capacity must be developed further. This newsletter is dedicated to illustrating the downstream effect of leadership through Sam’s (real-life) case study.

Illustration of the Downstream Effect of the Leadership process: Adapted from Barling 2014

How to Kill Staff Motivation

A case study on the negative effect a manager can have on employee motivation

A case study on the negative effect that Sam's manager had on employee motivation

According to a column by Ben Tiggelaar, a majority of managers have a profound demotivating effect on their employees. At Synquity we know that no manager wakes up thinking “Grrr! How can I demotivate my team today?” Unfortunately, however, many managers unwittingly do so and, instead of bringing out the best in their teams, they achieve the opposite. This case study shares the real story of Sam.

A True Story:

For approximately two years Sam had been reporting to a particular manager at his company. This manager had very high expectations of herself and others. She found it hard to delegate and to trust those below her. As a result, she questioned every little role or job she asked people to carry out. If something went wrong, it was turned into a mountain.

At first the manager was very happy to have Sam working for her. She felt he had the right experience and capabilities to do the job. Towards the end of the two years, however, she started hinting that ‘he was not in the right position’, which Sam heard as ‘maybe he needed demoting’. 

Her lack of trust and increasingly demeaning manner meant Sam’s confidence in himself and his abilities plummeted. It got to the point where he questioned every decision he made; he questioned if he was indeed worthy of his job title and responsibilities and even if he was capable of supervising others under him. These thoughts were completely contrary to his many years of experience of supervising and mentoring people.

Every day was a struggle, to the point where he went to see the company psychologist to discuss the situation. Although the advice offered was helpful, he still struggled to work under his manager, who held weekly dissecting meetings with him to talk about how he needed to change how he worked and did things, and how he needed to be a different person. He went from having the best job he had ever had to not wanting to go to work at all.

It got so bad that he was considering going off sick due to the stress. This was so unlike Sam, who generally loved his work and used to have a quiet confidence in his own abilities. He loved the research and lab work and had a very curious nature in general. This helped in his daily role at work, but was slowly diminishing.

Finally, Sam decided to escalate the matter to his senior manager. Luckily the senior manager thought Sam was dedicated, reliable and hard-working. The team was successful partly because of who and what Sam brought to the job. The senior manager had picked up on the strain between Sam and his own manager and silently regretted having let this go on for so long.

Shortly afterwards, the senior manager called in Sam’s manager, talked to her about the situation and got her feedback. They agreed that things needed to change. The senior manager set up a three-way meeting, during which Sam’s manager apologized for her behaviour and said there would be changes. The change in Sam’s demeanour and confidence was immediate. Shortly after that the manager moved to a new division.
A year later, Sam is working under a new manager who has confidence in Sam’s abilities, allows him to get on with his job and trusts him to do it well. Sam is glad he found a solution rather than giving up. He recently had his first review with this new manager, who did not recognize any of the warnings his previous manager had ‘passed down’. Indeed, the new manager was completely happy with Sam’s work and, after a reshuffle, allocated additional staff to him.

A great end to a challenging period in Sam’s life. But what about the manager? Or the senior manager? To see the bigger picture, read the brief article on How Difficulties between Managers and Staff Can Improve the Quality of Leadership.

How Difficulties between Managers and Staff Can Improve the Quality of Leadership Sam’s Manager - case study review 

At first glance, it may be easy to blame the manager for Sam’s demotivated state in the case study. Or worse, to think ’fire the manager!' However, replacing staff is costly and short term, it disrupts productivity. Sam and the senior manager could have been part of the problem. Being systemic coaches, we at SYNQUITY consider the multidimensional context of leadership. Several factors could have contributed to the downward spiral in this case. 

  • Sam is a 'good guy', He did not want to make waves. Perhaps Sam took the rap for far too long 
  • the culture difference (the manager is Dutch, while Sam is from the UK)
  • a gender difference
  • an age difference
  • their experiences were diverse
  • a high-pressure culture in a busy period
  • the senior manager not intervening to address the issue between Sam and the manager when it first became apparent to him
  • the nature of the manager’s relationship with her senior manager is unknown etc.
  • the dynamics of high-performing women in a challenging environment (see our partner update from ECWO: Women in Leadership Conference, 5 February 2016).

This case study suggests Sam’s manager dealt poorly with her own stress (see article on ‘Bad ways to deal with stress’ below). However, difficulties between staff and managers present an opportunity to improve the quality of leadership. We only know Sam’s side of this story. 

Imagine if this manager had engaged a leadership coach when the situation first started spiralling downwards.
  • Sam’s manager could have had a confidential safe space to think about the kind of leader she wanted to be and set specific goals in line with this
  • Her senior manager and Sam could have been involved in coaching to give and get feedback on their roles and contributions to the situation
  • Reviewing her business plan and last performance review with a external coach could have focused her leadership goals
  • If she thought it made sense, she could have gained support from the coach to improve her communication, delegation, conflict management and team-building skills
  • The manager could have reconnect to her core values
  • Perhaps stepping back and thinking about her impact, getting the coach's feedback or reviewing her 360° assessment would have alerted her to some hard truths she needed to hear
  • She could have identified the positive and negative factors affecting the situation, such as her own empowering beliefs or organizational perspectives that were holding her back. 
  • She could then have gained the emotional support and confidence needed to make bold moves that were not defensive, but constructive and value-adding.
  • Her influence and impact could then have soared.

With coaching she could have improved her self-leadership and team skills so that the downstream of this manager would have contributed to quality leadership. Imagine how the improved quality of leadership would then have further cascaded and gradually helped to develop the organization.
 See The benefits of coaching leaders below.

Bad Ways to Deal with Stress 

  • Reacting emotionally and sometimes 'blowing up'
  • Complaining about the pressure you are under, mostly to people who aren’t actually causing it
  • Passing the stress down, unloading it on someone else - worse, on your staff!
  • Turning your back on the people who cause you the most stress and so blocking them out as much as you can
  • Putting up with stress until you can unwind at cocktail hour or at the gym (when you get back to work, the problem is still there. It needs to be addressed!)
  • Putting even more pressure on yourself and others in the misconception that it makes you ‘stronger, impresses others or is more competitive’
  • Ref: Choppra and Tanzi, 2015

How You Will Benefit From Leadership Coaching 

12 ways you can benefit from coaching
  1. Hard results - greater productivity, faster promotions, higher profits
  2. Deeper learning - about yourself, how you're perceived, where you can improve
  3. Faster action - advancing things faster and with greater precision
  4. Space to hear your own voice - to talk something through and gain perspective
  5. Awareness of perspectives, beliefs and attitudes that may be holding you back
  6. Support and confidence to ‘lean in’ and make bold moves
  7. Clarity on your values and what you stand for - leading to greater conviction
  8. Ideas for ways to improve that you may not see - awareness of blind spots
  9. Emotional support, empathy and encouragement - feels less lonely
  10. The cold truth others won't tell you
  11. Third-party moderation for 360° reviews, strategic planning and conflict resolution
  12. Support for improving specific skills: communication, delegation, conflict management, team building, persuasion, etc.
CLICK : I want to improve the quality of my leadership

Clink on the link below


When My Leadership Needs Team-Coaching

  • You have entered a challenging new season in your organization, career or life.
  • You are facing strategic renewal or business turnaround and want to be the one driving the change.
  • You want to develop a clear organizational (or team) purpose, vision or strategy owned by staff.
  • You want to create greater alignment between stakeholders.
  • You want to develop a healthier internal culture in your organization (or team).
  • You are in a rapid growth curve that requires new leadership skills and capacity.
  • There is low trust and confidence in the team.
  • You want to address the cross-functional bottlenecks with better internal communication and leadership practices.
  • Feedback from colleagues, staff or customers suggest you need to take a different leadership approach.
  • You have high levels of staff turnover in your organization or department.

“Why can’t my staff be like me?”

By Hans de Hoog, The Governance Hub

Only a somewhat narcissistic personality could in all seriousness ask the above question. Another question in the same category could be ‘Let’s stop talking about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?’ (Prof. Manfred Kets de Vries).

There is substantial evidence that narcissism has a detrimental effect on leadership and the organization: ‘Organizational researchers may not believe that executive narcissism is of much theoretical or practical significance. They may see executive narcissism as incidental to organizational functioning – annoying to those who must endure it, grist for jokes about self-absorbed CEOs, but it is more than that. Narcissism in the executive suite can be expected to have effects on substantive organizational outcomes, potentially including strategic grandiosity and submissive top management teams. Narcissism can negatively affect an executive’s choices in such areas as strategy, structure, and staffing.’ (Prof. Don Hambrickin: Why Narcissistic CEOs Kill Their Companies, Forbes, 11 January 2012)

In The Supervisor (De Toezichthouder), 2013 I share several examples of narcissistic CEOs or other board members who have ruined their organizations. This may occur if, for instance, they overstretch their ambitions far beyond what would be realistic rather than focusing on the best interest of all stakeholders. Rijsenbilt’s dissertation (CEO Narcissism, 2011) further expands on the detrimental effects of high levels of narcissism.

It is one thing to be proud of your own achievements as a leader or entrepreneur. It is quite another thing to think that it would be great if your staff were just like you!

Updates from our Partner Organizations


Women in Leadership Conference, 5 February 2016

 While women’s ability to lead successful organizations is unquestioned, the path to the highest organizational level has been found to be challenging for many talented and career-oriented women. Physically, women have succeeded in climbing the seven summits, the highest mountain on each continent, but the metaphorical eighth summit – women’s ascent of organizations – may for many still be the greatest challenge.  

After the conference you are cordially invited to attend the inaugural ceremony of Dianne Bevelander, Professor of Management Education at RSM. Sign up now to explore gender-balanced leadership, attend thought-provoking lectures and workshops with like-minded professionals.  

Event page link:  

GLI continues to grow. As well as adding more Expert Consultants from around the globe, GLI has now completed its second leadership development app (The Leadership Quest App). Try it out at or find it on iTunes and Google Play under ‘The Leadership Quest’.
For more information contact Jill Sheen at UnitedSucces
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