That law firms are all about talent is a commonplace. Too bad that so many lawyers seem to have an uncanny knack for knocking the wind out of the sails of the most spirited contributors.
I dare you to tell me that you don’t recognize at least a few colleagues who exhibit some of the behavior described in The Three Habits of Highly Effective Demotivators, just picked as one of the top posts of 2013 on Booz & Co’s “Strategy & Business” publication. If these colleagues are at your firm now, you know what to do; if they used to be at your firm and you took the necessary measures, congratulations. (Just be on alert that you may have to do it again.)
The author uses the example of a real, but disguised, high-tech startup in the academic sector, whose CEO—otherwise brilliant—was referred to internally, sotto voce, as “the DM,” standing for “the DeMotivator:”
[The CEO, Lawrence] had a positive genius for turning eager beavers into disheartened slugs. A few moments in his presence were enough to sow doubt where there had been clarity of purpose, depress energy where it abounded, undercut confidence, and instill frustration. Lawrence had an artist’s touch when it came to disheartening people.
Our correspondent decides to interview some people at the firm in an attempt to find out exactly what behavior patterns Lawrence exhibited, and she found—you saw this coming—three.
First, regularly tell people how to do things they’re already doing. Extra credit for this if they’re doing it quite well.
“This is a kind of two-fer in the demotivation sweepstakes,” since it completely diminishes the target of your micromanagement, making it clear that you have no clue about their contribution or their competence, so all their efforts will be for naught. Then, when the targeted employee actually accomplishes something valuable for the firm, who deserves the credit? The DM, of course, whose prudent intervention set the stage for success.
Second, ensure that when you’re planning to inflict criticism and embarrassment on someone, you choose to do so in front of an audience the target really cares about—the larger the audience the better.