Employees are unhappy at work, and the reason may surprise you.

The lack of morale in the workplace is tied directly to the relationship employees have with their boss. It’s not the “let’s be friends and grab a drink after work” type of relationship they seek. They want a relationship established on trust and respect. You can’t expect employees to arrive at work each day motivated to follow your direction if they don’t respect you. Worse still, if they don’t trust you, they certainly aren’t going to follow you without suspecting a motive behind everything you say.

I once worked with an executive who could not understand what happened to the relationship he once had with his sales team. There was a time when everyone responded positively to his direction and guidance. But lately, morale was low, and employees seemed discouraged by his presence. Employees no longer actively engaged in meetings or responded positively to his ideas. After a few conversations with his account executives, I found out why.

A few months before, the executive hosted a sales conference. He gave a great pep talk to the team and discussed the company’s success and positive profit projections. Energy was high. Morale was soaring. Everyone knew they were on the winning team with the best coach leading the way. About 10 minutes after the presentation wrapped up, a sales account executive overheard his boss in the hallway sharing details with another executive about imminent layoffs and concerns that quotas weren’t being met. He discussed how the company was in trouble and that tough decisions lie ahead. Before the next presentation could start, rumors spread, and the dynamics changed.

He lost credibility because he lost their trust. It cost him respect and his right to influence them.

Many leaders don’t realize their ability to influence employees has nothing to do with what they have to say but instead with how they behave. Our social behavior determines how others perceive us and whether we can be trusted. Most leaders I’ve worked with operate with a false notion that they have more influence than they do. They don’t see their behavioral actions undermining their message.

Your level of influence is based on how others experience you every day, not just in high-stakes situations. If you are always distracted or on your phone during conversations, your team will think it’s OK to emulate your actions. If you always arrive late to meetings, they will believe it’s acceptable for them, too. If you then expect different behavior from them, they will stop trusting and respecting you.

I once worked with a leader who was irritated about their employees’ overuse of smartphones in meetings. They said their team was distracted and not engaged. As it came time to observe the team meeting in action, I discovered the leader was distracted by his smartphone. He was rarely fully engaged in conversation. It became obvious where the bad habits began.  

There are three ways to evaluate your employee relationships to determine the best way to course-correct bad behaviors.

Seek the Truth.

The only way to know if people don’t respect you is to ask. Find someone you trust to give you honest feedback. Ask them what they see and hear. Seeking truthful feedback helps you become self-aware. You may not realize the bad behaviors you’ve developed and how they cost you influence with others.

Put your feelings aside and think objectively. Feedback isn’t criticism; it’s an opportunity. Reflect on their feedback and consider your behavior during the past few days (or within the last few interactions). You’ll start to see what needs to change. Self-awareness is key to making it happen.

Eliminate Excuses.

Your title doesn’t permit you to get away with what others cannot. Many executives think their title gives them the power to influence others to act. What they fail to realize is that others’ actions are done so with animosity and frustration when trust is absent. If you want your team to behave one way, be the example. Don’t try to excuse your actions or justify them in any way. Your title doesn’t give you a free pass from any behavior different from what you expect from others.

Put Plans in Place.

Creating new habits takes practice. If you are told your use of a smartphone in meetings or conversations makes you look disengaged, leave it behind. If everyone sees how late you are to every meeting, rearrange your calendar to give yourself more time to transition between obligations. Planning and committing to change will help you form better behaviors.  

Leaders lead by example, an example set by consistent actions demonstrated every day. If you want to have the influence necessary to get others to willingly act upon your direction, begin first by looking inward. Become aware of your behaviors and improve where needed. Your team will respond to your consistent positive changes with new admiration and respect for you as their leader.


  • Stacey Hanke

    Founder and communication expert of Stacey Hanke Inc., author of Influence Redefine ... Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday

    Stacey Hanke is author of the book; Influence Redefined…Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday®. She is also co-author of the book; Yes You Can! Everything You Need From A To Z To Influence Others To Take Action. Stacey is founder of Stacey Hanke Inc. She has trained and presented to thousands to rid business leaders of bad body language habits and to choose words wisely in the financial industry to the healthcare industry to government and everyone in between. Her client list is vast from Coca-Cola, FedEx, Kohl’s, United States Army, Navy and Air Force, Publicis Media, Nationwide, US Cellular, Pfizer, GE, General Mills and Abbvie. Her team works with Directors up to the C-Suite. In addition to her client list, she has been the Emcee for Tedx. She has inspired thousands as a featured guest on media outlets including; The New York Times, Forbes, SmartMoney magazine, Business Week, Lifetime Network, Chicago WGN and WLS-AM. She is a Certified Speaking Professional—a valuable accreditation earned by less than 10% of speakers worldwide.