5 ways to lose your team’s respect

If your team doesn’t respect you, you’ll have a hard time getting things done. They’re likely to doubt your decisions, push back when you need them pulling in the same direction, and even eventually leave. And when you’re in a leadership position, trust can be easy to lose – it only takes one or two instances of troubling behavior to end up with a team that’s lost faith in you.

Here are some of the ways managers risk losing their teams’ respect – and things to be sure not to do:

1. Hold your staff members to a different standard than you hold yourself to. As a manager, you should have high standards; you should expect excellence from your team and hold people accountable for meeting ambitious goals. But if you don’t hold yourself to those same standards, believe me, your team is going to notice it. If you don’t cut your staff any slack on deadlines (when the situation allows for it) but routinely don’t meet your own deadlines, or if you regularly show up late and unprepared for meetings while holding a hard line on that behavior in others, or come down hard on them for the same types of errors that your own work sometimes has, it’s going to be hard for your team to take you seriously.

2. Be a source of drama, rather than the calm in the storm. If you overreact to tough news, lurch from one crisis to the next, gossip about colleagues, and/or regularly have interpersonal conflicts, your team is going to have trouble seeing you as a figure they respect. Moreover, that kind of drama tends to trickle down to the rest a team as well; it’s hard to maintain a calm equilibrium when working for a manager who’s constantly riled up. Good managers model a no-drama approach for their staff, and that ethos will usually end up permeating the rest of their team, which benefits everyone.

3. Get defensive when questioned. There’s almost no faster way to look insecure in your knowledge and position than to become defensive when someone questions your decisions. You’ll gain more respect by welcoming input and dissent and considering push-back with an open mind, and by being willing to explain your decisions, than you will be acting as your word is unquestionable and final.

4. Don’t keep your word. If you’ve ever worked with someone who regularly didn’t follow through on her commitments, you probably know what happened next: People stopped taking that person’s word for much, and greet future commitments with skepticism. As a manager, you don’t want your team secretly thinking “I’ll believe it when I see it” or “yeah, right” when you agree to review a document by Thursday or call that difficult customer or go to bat to get them a raise.

5. Neglect to deal with tough issues. As much as your team might like you, they’ll start to lose respect for you if you develop a pattern of not taking on the hard parts of your job, like breaking bad news, giving difficult feedback, or letting a low performer go. It’s hard to lead a team when you’re not doing the things that your position requires you to do (and which, usually, you’re the only person on your team who can handle). But when your team sees you handle tough challenges with fairness and transparency, you’ll earn their respect, and often their loyalty too.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. BRR*

    #4 and if you can’t keep your word follow up with why. Communicating about how you make decisions could really be an additional point.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this. In the absence of information, people will try to fill the gap. Managers certainly don’t have to give out every detail or break confidences, but not explaining why decisions are being made or why things are happening just encourages people to draw their own conclusions, often unflattering ones.

  2. Golden Yeti*

    Holy crap, my bosses do all of those things on a regular basis. No wonder I want to leave…

      1. Golden Yeti*

        I actually witnessed a work situation not long ago that in some way involved all 5 of those happening at once. That was interesting, to say the least.

        Best of luck in your job search, LMW. You have my sympathies.

    1. Steve G*

      OMG Manager of my last division was totally #5 all of the time + #1, with occasional #4….but we never usually got to #4 because he was too busy doing #5.


  3. AMG*

    I’m really lucky. My boss is great about all of these things. It takes dealing with the bad ones to know how good you have it sometimes!

  4. YandO*

    This article described my boss completely. I could not really articulate why I am struggling and you did for me. It;s amazing.

  5. beachlover*

    One more, if you are a manager brought in from outside, take time to learn and understand the way your team works, and how they do their job. I had experience with a person, well qualified as far as the position, but couldn’t be bothered to learn anything about how the dept worked. First thing he did was clean out the old managers files and send them to storage. Well, we all used those files, because they had reference to product development and long term contracts, customer information and Vendor information. Needless to say, he floundered for quite a while. He lost respect of the team rather quickly, especially when he couldn’t answer a question about something that was his responsibility.

    1. Snoskred*

      beachlover – amen to this. The worst manager I ever had could not grasp the fact that – in among the message taking clients which our call centre did quite a lot of – we also had clients who needed us to deal with life threatening, crisis and emergency situations. Sure, I might have just taken a quick message for company A, but the next call might be something where I have to call emergency services and organise the police to attend a location, or put a caller through to 911, or get a contractor to repair an emergency gas leak.

      Our call centre used multiple queues to try and make sure crisis clients got answered first and one day this so called manager realised that those calls got answered first. The next client that complained to her about longer wait times suddenly got shoved into the crisis queue. And the next one. And the next one. And all of a sudden, that queue has massive wait times because these other clients are clogging it up.

      She also did not understand how staff were trained – to answer those particular calls you would have been working at the place for more than a year and you’ve learned how to do all the other things. So there were less staff on a shift who were trained to take those crisis calls.

      Her actions meant 3/4 of staff on a shift were now sitting there twiddling their thumbs because many of the message taking calls they used to take were now totally unavailable to them. Literally. Their phones could not take calls from the crisis queue, specifically to prevent untrained people from taking those calls by accident!

      And when several of the staff tried to explain this to her, she could not comprehend what we were talking about or why shoving all the clients into the crisis queue was a problem not a solution. One staff member went to the effort of drawing a diagram for her and even that did not work. It was an epic diagram, too! It only took her 3 months to lose half the staff who could take those crisis calls forever, myself included.

      But, she did understand a dirty kitchen, and she went on an email rampage about that, sending out these long, impassioned pleas for people to tidy up after themselves, and then creating a “dirty dish jail” where unwashed dishes were placed by her, for eternity. This was totally the best use of her time, rather than trying to understand what we did!

      I am reliably informed that she has now been sacked. The whereabouts of the dishes remain a mystery. They were never seen again. :)

      1. Florida*

        Lovely. I had a manager once who would frequently make huge errors in judgment because she didn’t take time to understand. Then when the staff tried to explain it to her, she would never understand it. I’m convinced that she feigned misunderstanding because she did not want to admit that perhaps she jumped the gun in making her decision without fulling understanding the situation. It was maddening.

        1. esra*

          If your name weren’t ‘Florida’, I would swear you worked at the same nonprofit I did.

      2. steve g*

        Any crisis is equal I guess!! Sounds like a hot mess.

        I suffered for three months with a boss who couldn’t do math/use excel who oversaw analysts in the sales ops dept. That was also a mess, but nowhere near as bad as yours!

        1. Ruffingit*

          Oh man, yeah. I’m working for someone now who does not understand the job I do at all because he literally cannot do it since it requires an advanced degree and state license, neither of which he has. It’s like getting the guy with severe dyscalculia to teach trig.

    2. Kelly O*


      The last place I worked, a new manager was brought in. He had experience only in half our business, and that experience was with a completely different style of carrier.

      He came bursting in, talking about how he’s an “idea guy” and “progressive thinker” and all that – code for “I’m going to do things my way and to h-e-double-sippy-straws with whatever you were doing before.”

      He got hired June 1, and the announcement of our closure was at the beginning of August. By the time he transferred to a new location, he already had a rolodex full of people he’d managed to hack off, and had proven he thought the SOP was a suggestion, not procedure. (He even went around the VP to interview for the other position, and fell off the face of the earth after telling our team he’d be there for the closure. He said that on Wednesday, and on Thursday was on a plane to interview.)

      I have always maintained that in order to make effective change, you have to understand why things are done the way they’re done before you can start changing things. It may look daft at first, but when you figure out what happens five or ten or a hundred steps down the line, that bit of “double work” or the extra time it takes means a whole bunch.

    3. A Definite Beta Guy*

      I am an accountant.
      Late last year, we found a discrepancy between our tracker and a Legal Account looked at by upper management. Something to the tune of $300,000.
      My Account Manager asked me to reconcile the number. Not unlike, say, balancing your checkbook.
      Great! Give me the register of everything the Legal Account. Not unlike asking your bank for a record of your account activity.
      My Account Manager stares at me, dumb-founded.
      7 months later, I still have no register, and the $300,000 is still not reconciled.
      Unfortunately double-entry accounting requires access to, you know, both accounts.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Ha. You need the cartoon that our budget officer had in her office: an accountant in conversation with her boss saying, “OH! that$300,000!”

  6. Paloma Pigeon*

    Or conversely for #1, not do the work and actively encourage team members to SLACK OFF – so they feel less guilty about doing so. Really inspiring.

  7. B*

    #1 completely!! Do not complain to your employees about co-workers and how you are not wanting to deal with certain people and things. Yet, when an employee you manage comes to you with a very similar issue you defend the other people and refuse to see/understand/look at your employees point of view.

  8. Ed*

    I can vividly remember a few previous managers that brought non-stop drama into our department during their divorces. I can sympathize with how it must turn your life upside down but the problem is divorces can stretch over multiple years and then there are often more post-divorce issues with child support, alimony, dealing with kids, etc. Everyone will cut you a little slack at first and let you unload on them but you need to move on or at least stop over-sharing. You can’t walk in 8 months later with “You’ll never believe what that !%#*& did this time!” and expect us to actually care. But as your employees, we’re not really in the position to tell you knock it off.

  9. YandO*

    I have one more to add: don’t try to be their best friend

    This means no deep personal conversations about marital problems, no feet on desk and burp out loud, no getting mad and upset because your employee did not tell you about the accident on a high way, no lunches together everyday, etc.

    1. Allison*

      Agreed, professional boundaries are key. I had a manager who kept inviting the team to parties at his apartment, which he’d say were gonna be crazy. 1) I don’t like crazy parties, 2) it seemed inappropriate that my manager would invite me to a party like that at his place. AND it felt like by not going, I was putting myself at a disadvantage, because some of my coworkers did go to his parties and they were clearly getting buddy-buddy with the boss.

  10. Kelly L.*

    Tantrums over nothing.

    I still remember a boss from many, many years ago who would be fine 29 days out of 30, and then on the 30th, just completely blow her stack for absolutely no reason and scream at everybody. I guess this could be included under drama.

  11. Amber Rose*

    Drama and gossip is largely what ruined my last company. The owner talked shit about my coworker Anne to the accountant, and Anne heard. When Anne called her on it at a meeting (really professionally too) the owner went off about how she spent hours crying in her office and how everyone was letting her down. :/

    That wasn’t an isolated incident either. If anyone had questions about how something should be done, she’d tell them to figure it out and then whine later about mistakes.

  12. It's tired, and I'm late*

    I had a boss that was extremely accomplished at #2 (“Be a source of drama, rather than the calm in the storm”). I had my first ever panic attack while working for her, and I wasn’t the only one. It wasn’t entirely her fault, as the company was attempting to struggle through a major growth and expansion phase while retaining the structure of a start-up company, and everyone was super stressed. She certainly didn’t help though, with all the bitching about other departments behind their backs while being sickly-sweet to everyone in person (which meant none of us could trust her when she was being sweet with us) and other drama.

    1. Florida*

      Some managers are fire fighters. They live to put out a fire. If there isn’t a fire, they create one just so they can put it out. These people are always the source of drama. It’s almost as if they feel like they aren’t really working if there isn’t enough drama. What’s worse is when the big boss rewards this behavior by always praising Jane for coming through in a crisis.

      1. Anon to protect the guilty...*

        Mind. Blown. You just singlehandedly made my job a little more bearable by allowing me to imagine my dramatastic boss as a firefighter. Knowing that what I see as a cigarette in the grass is a flaming inferno to her because she NEEDS that makes it no less irritating, but could make it a lot easier to get through the latest “crisis.”

        1. Ruffingit*

          This mindset really is incredibly helpful. Once I realized that my craptastic boss NEEDS to have a target, needs to get angry at nothing, etc., it made things a lot more bearable. Now, I just see it for what it is, which is his total insecurity and need to prove that he’s valuable (movie ending spoiler – he’s not. At all). Anyway, it does help to realize what is really happening and remember it when the boss goes off the rails. Again.

    2. Ama*

      Yup, been there. Mine was a combination of #2 and #3 — and because she was one of the earliest employees of the division I was working in, it infected the entire culture. Even after she left, certain of my coworkers had been trained that throwing hissyfits about problems got results, and getting defensive when asked to correct a problem mitigated any consequences.

  13. Banana*

    For me, refusing to make critical decisions (part of #5) is the biggest respect killer. Someone has to make tough calls on the direction of the project and sometimes that can only be the project management. Knowing which decision to make and when to make it IS YOUR ENTIRE JOB. When someone begs you to prioritize 8 things, responding that they are all equal priority and to give them all “best effort” is BS.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Oh yes, this all the way! It’s not enough to recognize that something has to be done, if your the boss you need to make a call on how or when.

      The worst thing is always when you say to your manager that you have X, Y and Z things and not enough resources, and they agree but do nothing.

    2. Jaune Desprez*

      Yes, #5 is the big one for me as well. I had one boss who, while otherwise a lovely person, wanted all difficult decisions to be made unanimously by his entire team. He would go around the conference room and ask everyone, “Should we do A or B?” We’d end up with 7 votes for A and 4 votes for B, and then we’d discuss it for an hour. Then we’d vote again, and we’d get 8 votes for A and 3 votes for B. Then the boss would say he didn’t have enough data to make a decision, the question would get tabled until the next meeting, and we’d start discussing and voting on something else. We had a lot of meetings in that job. Loooong meetings.

      1. the_scientist*

        I was actually going to suggest this very scenario as #6 or a sub-heading to #5. This was the exact situation at an old job- no decisions ever got made because my boss couldn’t nut up and make hard decisions and wanted everything to be friendly and supportive and unanimous. All that happened was that we spun the wheels for months on end and all the staff ended up leaving for better gigs where their projects would eventually come to a conclusion and not end up getting re-done 4-5 times. And how did this focus on collaboration and unanimous decision-making work out? With a faction of the team trying to stage, I am not even exaggerating, a bloodless coup.

        Only in academia……

        1. Jaune Desprez*

          He was a very capable second-in-command who’d accepted the leadership position against his better judgment. Although he was very nice and very knowledgeable, I eventually realized that it would have been easier in many ways to work for a hanging judge.

          “I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,” said cunning old Fury. “I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.”

    3. Michele*

      Also, when you make a critical decision, realize that your employees are paying attention and will base their actions on it. Don’t make a critical decision, then a couple months later reverse it and act like your employees screwed up by following the initial decision. My direct supervisor’s boss does that all the time, then she doesn’t understand why their is a morale problem.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Oh yes. Especially if you never get around to telling people about your changes in policy. Just finished a temp job like that.

  14. NickelandDime*

    Playing favorites by having lunch with one subordinate every day, braiding each other’s hair and being their best friend, then want to unload on an online forum when the subordinate being left out complains about it.

      1. Ineloquent*

        And being the favorite is also fairly sucky, especially when you don’t particularly like the manager, but you get on well with everyone. But I guess that all goes into the create drama category.

        1. NickelandDime*

          That does sound like a tricky situation to be in. Because if that relationship goes badly, the “favorite” could suddenly become “the sworn enemy.” It’s simply the manager’s responsibility to avoid these situations and establish professional boundaries.

    1. Ruffingit*

      My boss totally plays favorites with my colleague. It’s a harassment suit waiting to happen. But I’m fine with him playing favorites with her because it leaves me free to do my job without his scrutiny, he’s too busy laughing it up with her in the private office. I’m also fine with it because I don’t care to have the reputation she now has, which is not as a professional, but rather as someone who has no boundaries and she is the subject of speculation about whether or not she’s sleeping with the boss. No thank you.

  15. Connie-Lynne*

    I feel like this should go double or maybe even triple for the Executive Office. I’ve seen more than one start-up brought down by Chief-whatever-Officers who broke these rules.

  16. Ann Furthermore*

    Amen to #1. I worked for a director once who always had a long laundry list of reasons why people couldn’t work from home on a regular basis (like 1-2 days per week). Then all of a sudden, her nanny was unable to work on Fridays, so she started working from home on Fridays, but still, no one else was allowed to do the same thing. So not only was she doing something she wouldn’t let anyone else do, she was working from home when her kids were there, and they were pretty young. There was no way she was actually working all day. It’s possible that she worked into the evenings after her kids were in bed to catch up, but who knows? All anyone noticed, and therefore grumbled about, was that she wouldn’t let anyone work from home, even though she did it herself once a week.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Along a similar line, if you are a boss try to be transparent about your hours. If you write a schedule for the week that includes you, then make sure you are working the hours you say you will work. And try not to say, “I am the boss, I can come and go as I please” when someone asks you if you will be in first thing in the morning (or whenever). People need to know when you will be around. It’s not a question intended to start an argument. Think of it this way, if they never look for you or ask for you, this could be cause for alarm.

      I cannot tell you how many bosses I have had that snuck out the back door two hours early. The worst ones would announce that they were sneaking out early. One place I worked, the boss was so bad that when she snuck out, everyone covered for her. It was only to our benefit if she left us sooner. She was a terrible boss.

      Maybe technically speaking you do not owe your subordinates an explanation of your hours worked, but if your subordinates do not perceive you as working this will greatly undermine your leadership of the group.

  17. Noelle*

    #5 is why I left my last job. My boss was a really nice guy and we got along well, but he was supposed to be a manager and he just didn’t manage things that were hard. For instance, I was doing the job of 2-3 people minimum, while others weren’t pulling their weight at all. Several people complained about this, and my boss just shrugged sympathetically and did nothing. I left because I’d asked for a promotion several times and he made it sound like it was in the works. Then when I finally had an offer on the table and asked him if I actually was getting the promotion or not, I learned that he’d never even talked to his boss about promoting me, he’d just said it to me and never followed through. I liked him a lot (and still do), but I don’t want a friend as a boss, I want someone who will do – all of – the job.

  18. Jeanne*

    My manager did all 5 of those. Sounds like many of us have had that problem. I had absolutely no respect for him at all. Somebody please tell me how these people get rewarded and promoted when they are so incompetent.

    1. YandO*

      some of them are business owners where they can be as awful as they’d like and then complain about high turnover.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Yes! Excellent people leave (when it wasn’t such a poor economy and jobs were more plentiful) and the bad apples remain. Then they complain that their company that was once thriving is going downhill quickly.

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Yep. In my experience, the worst bosses usually are owners, because they don’t have to answer to anyone. Especially the drama-loving or tyrannical kind.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Some are really good at sales: they sell themselves to the higher ups in a way that makes them look like demigods.

      Some of it’s nepotism.

      Sometimes it’s desperation, there was nobody else available at the time.

      There’s lots of reasons, none of them good.

      1. Michele*

        “Some are really good at sales: they sell themselves to the higher ups in a way that makes them look like demigods.”

        I think this is a big part of it. I work in a very technical field, and the worst bosses I have had were very good at dazzling people with BS if they didn’t really understand the topic. They know how to present themselves to people who have power but don’t understand the subject matter. They also prevent people lower than them from interacting with people higher than them so the only thing that is ever seen is what they show.

        1. Karowen*

          I work in a very not-technical field and I’ve run into the same thing. Even after I learned how to see through my former boss’s bull (she fit 1-5 as well), I was amazed by her ability to bluff her way through conversations and have everyone coming out like they won and she was amazing. It was super disheartening.

      2. Noelle*

        I always have to remind myself of that when I think about my former boss (I managed to work for her for a whole month before quitting, and believe it or not, that is not even close to the shortest tenure). She has had a skyrocketing trajectory in her career, and it makes me jealous and confused. Until I remember that while she treated ME terribly, she was basically like a snake charmer with our higher ups. Some people just have that gift.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “Be kind to people on the way UP, because you will see them again, on the way DOWN.”

          That saying was invented for people just like your old boss. Glad you got out of there.

          1. Noelle*

            Thanks. I’m just eternally grateful that I was able to get out of there as quickly as I did. And she’s also the reason I try to be as nice as possible to everyone – even the interns.

      3. I'm a Little Teapot*

        One of the worst managers I know of was hired to be a full-time manager….on a part-time salary. She was literally the *only* minimally qualified person who applied for the job.

    3. K.*

      Or they’re really good at the thing their department does, but that doesn’t translate into having good managerial skills.

      The worst teacher I ever had was my chemistry teacher sophomore year of high school. Brilliant guy and had been a researcher before switching to teaching. We were his first class. I was always an excellent student and I was suddenly floundering in chemistry. Kids who had an aptitude for the sciences were struggling; kids who didn’t were failing. He knew a ton about chemistry but he had no idea how to teach it. He lasted a year.

      I think it’s the same with management. You can be a really great chocolate teapot-maker, but that doesn’t mean you can effectively manage a team of teapot-makers, and the way many organizations are set up, the only way to advance is to manage people – even though not everyone has the aptitude for it. Or even the desire to – I can think of many people who say outright that they never want to manage people, and others who do manage people who say it’s their least favorite part of their job.

      1. Noelle*

        That sounds like when my dad was trying to help me with geometry. He obviously knew a lot about it, but for him it was more like a fun refresher course for himself than teaching a beginner. I was completely in the dark, and we both got very frustrated.

  19. Anon Accountant*

    Alison! You met one of my bosses and didn’t stop by and say hi?! I’d have even bought you coffee and a muffin.

  20. NickelandDime*

    I have another one: Managers that can’t discern information that should be shared, and information that should be kept confidential. I keep getting ideas not only from past posts, but the same bad manager I had. :-(

  21. James M.*

    Does anyone else feel that most of these points fall under the umbrella of basic human decency?

    1. Ruffingit*

      I’m with you there. Unfortunately, for many companies, basic human decency is not a requirement for management.

  22. Joey*

    Number one for me is failure to recognize or reward good performance. If I’m busting my ass and bring lots of value I lose all respect if you don’t show me (not just tell me) that you value my contributions. I will find someone who does.

    1. TheExchequer*

      Yes, this! I wouldn’t mind *so* much doing the work of 3 people if my bosses did little more than grouse about how I’m not finishing things.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      +a lot.

      and that lake of appreciation is especially felt when I’m busy putting out all the fires caused by #5

    3. Ruffingit*

      Agreed. This is the situation I’m in now. In almost a year of working, I’ve taken only 3 days off and given a ton of notice that I would be doing that. I worked weekends when they needed someone, I’ve put in 10+ hour days on the regular to get things done, our clients have praised me continuously, but the boss? Crickets.

  23. TheExchequer*

    A corollary to #3: change your reasons/methods based on the tide of the moon, unknowable dark arts, or just because you’re tired of dealing with the problem.

    My boss hit 4/5 (or 5/5 with the above corollary). Wish me luck on my interviews.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      I once had a manager who would randomly change trivial things around when he got bored – like where people sat in the office. He moved me several times in two years. My coworkers would say “Oh, WeirdBoss has been reading management books again….” when he did this.

  24. Cubicle Joe*

    I suppose that gossip is inevitable wherever you work; however, at my office the manager is the ring leader, and he actively seeks out his favorites to share what should be personal information.

    Those who are brave enough to call him out, are told to lighten up.

    He brags frequently about not taking himself seriously, and it shows. Issues from stolen lunches to embezzlement of company funds are met with a dismissive grin and “Oh, well.”

    He was just promoted to head of the division. Somebody help me.

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