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"How" to Crush Morale with One Word

Most of us live in work worlds where we are given assignments which include what needs to be accomplished, when it must be done, and hopefully why it’s important to the team’s overall success.

However, leaders who dictate “the how” an assignment must be completed often stifle their team’s creativity and initiative. Directing “the how” can convey a lack of trust and confidence in your people and reduce them to mere extensions of you rather than synergistic individual members of a team. Absent your dictates, the team will inevitably complete a task or assignment differently than you, but that will quite often lead to new and better outcomes.

I'm by no means dissuading you from answering your team’s questions about “the how.” Just be careful how you answer. “This is how I’d do it” is a lot different than, “Here’s how it’s been done, here’s what we learned, and we’re looking for new ideas.” Previous ideas/solutions should be viewed as resources to learn from and improve upon, not rules to go by.

Some people may say, “New employees need the how.” Possibly, but new employees come in full of energy and new ideas. Aren’t we better off leveraging that energy and fresh perspective by asking the team, “Here’s where I want us to be in a year, three years, and five years – how do we get there?”

My experience is that if you hire smart, capable people and give them a vision of where you want the team to go, you will unleash their full talents. Conversely, if you routinely find yourself telling your team “the how”, you either have the wrong team or you may be a demoralizing micro-manager.

Dictating “the how”:

· Conveys a lack of trust and confidence

· Stifles creativity and initiative

· Crushes morale


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Nov 12, 2021

Great Article!


Britany Holmgren
Britany Holmgren
Nov 12, 2021

I absolutely agree with this, it's something we talked often about in business school, and I have seen it play out in real life with the teams I have managed. Thanks for the great reminders and ideas, I love reading your articles!

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