The manager called me, completely frustrated with his team. He told me his employees were negative; blamed each other for problems; didn’t communicate with him or take accountability and didn’t buy-in to important initiatives. He asked me to talk with his key employees and tell me how to fix them.

When I met with him afterwards, I asked, “How honest do you want me to be?”

His eyes widened in alarm and he said, “Honest, I guess.”

“The main problem on your team isn’t your employees. It’s you.”

Here’s what I told him.

If you’re the team’s leader, it’s on you

As the leader, you set the tone. If as a leader, you focus on “who was responsible for what went wrong?” with pointed “why did this happen?” questions, employees run for cover. Leaders that want forward movement need to shift from a problem/blame focus to a “let’s make this better” solution orientation. Questions such as “what can we learn from what happened?” and “what do we need to do better next time?”, remind everyone you and they are in this together.

Do you practice or allow negativity?

I let him know that several key employees advised me he talked about one employee to another. As a result, the employees he vents to wonders what he says to others about them.

I let him know he allowed team members to attack each other in his presence.

He said, “I don’t like it when they do that.”

“When you allow it, you okay it. You’re the leader. When team member disrespects or attacks another, intervene.” Unchecked negativity spreads more quickly than the flu.   


“They don’t communicate with you, because you don’t communicate with them.”

As a leader, you need to seize opportunities to connect with employees. You can accomplish this by regularly visiting each employee and by maintaining an open-door policy.  

When you do so, your relationship with your employees leaps forward and you can spot small problems before they escalate. When everyone works on-site, you can walk through your department and stop at each workstation. In a virtual environment, you can schedule brief “for whatever’s on your mind” meetings with each employee. When your employees open up and talk, listen. If you don’t, they stop talking.


As a leader, you need to model the ethics and behaviors they want to see. If you want employees to work with honesty, commitment, and ingenuity, you need to demonstrate integrity, work ethic, and openness to new ideas.

You need to arrive on time for meetings. When you don’t, you disrespect the employees you keep waiting. You need to respond to emails, so your employees don’t feel they’re playing handball with no wall.

If you want to dish out feedback, you need to take it. If you’re defensive, you tell employees it’s purposeless or unsafe to share their views when they think you’re wrong.

As a leader, you define the accountability environment. Employee accountability rests on each employee’s understanding of his or her role in achieving department objectives. When your employees know the results that they need to accomplish and why their actions matter, and see you taking full accountability as a leader, they take ownership and give extra effort.


If you include employees in your decision-making process by asking for their thoughts and suggestions, you increase their buy-in and get better outcomes. When you decide contrary to what your employees expect or want, explain your reasoning so their understanding grows.

When you hold departmental meetings, you show respect for your employees by keeping them in the know. Positive meetings create excitement, spread the word about recent successes, update employees concerning progress toward the department’s goals, and connect employees with one another and you as their leader/coach.

 “This wasn’t the answer I expected,” he said. “I wanted you to fix my employees. But I believe it’s the answer I needed.”

“If that’s your answer, you’re no longer the main problem, and now we can work on your employees.”

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2 thoughts on “Hey, Manager, Are You the Problem?

  1. It’s impressive that he listened and that he’s going to work on the tips you gave him about overcoming negativity and blame laying and not letting employees attack each other and instead working together to find solutions and figure out what was learned when things don’t turn out the way that was wanted.

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