One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to be oblivious to how he/she makes a team member feel.

How to Make an Employee Cry

Let me restate that: One of the biggest mistakes I made as a leader was to be completely oblivious to how my team members felt.

My friend and former colleague, Hunter Ingram, once told me that it wasn’t until something he said to a team member made her cry that he realized the magnitude of his position as CEO. He was suddenly aware that he had great power and began to wield that power more carefully.

I was 28 at the time and the world, I thought, still revolved around me, so I pocketed that little nugget and moved on with life. Thankfully I still remember that lesson.

Around that time I had just about perfected the art of making team members cry. The sad thing is that I was completely oblivious to it. Sure, I knew that I sucked as a leader, but I had no concept of the impact I was having on their lives and their emotions.

I assumed that they left their work problems at work and their home problems at home. I assumed that if I was upset and took it out on them, that it was acceptable, because they worked for me!

While I certainly never practiced these “skills” I did learn 5 ways to make a team member cry. They are also great for completely stifling team member input, ruining a culture, and causing high turnover. I write them tongue buried somewhat in cheek, but also as a lesson to leaders of what NOT to do. I think you will find much wisdom in the polar opposite of these methods.

5 ways to make a team member cry

1. Have a big ego.

See yourself as being considerably more important than you are. I’ve found it helps to picture yourself like one of the characters on the movie Wall Street or any of the many Hollywood depictions of business and leadership.

2. Look down on people.

See team members, particularly those with any more than 1 point lower on the IQ scale than you are, as inferior and dispensable. Hiring new team members is so easy in today’s world, right? Plus, more people are going to leave within 3 years anyway.

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3. Consider a paycheck the only reward or recognition a team member should get.

Employees are magically transformed every hour by the prospect of check in 13 days that barely covers their bills, feeds their children, and maybe just maybe allows them a night out at Taco Bell. This is surely enough to stoke their motivational fires.

4. Provide constant reminders that your ideas are better than theirs are.

This is best done by belittling their ideas, with sarcasm, condescension, or a downright insult. Immediately saying “Marie, that will never work,” to a suggestion or idea goes a long way on the path to creating sobbing team members. Also, be sure to treat every new idea or project you have think of as an emergency; of the utmost importance. That’s a winner for sure.

5. Claim their ideas as your own.

This is a great follow-up to #4. If you have previously dismissed input from a team member but later realize it was actually a good idea, it is best not to apologize and give them credit, but to resurrect the idea and claim it as your own. Take full credit for it.

There you have it, how to make a team member cry…or leave…or just seethe in anger toward you and become nothing more than a body getting a paycheck.

Have you ever made a team member cry? Has anyone ever made you cry? Let’s hear some sob stories.

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9 thoughts on “How to Make an Employee Cry

  1. Kevin O'Donnell says:

    Yes to both pretty much. I mean I’ve never actually cried because of a boss but I have come close and I’ve suffered greatly. All because he was just completely oblivious that I had a life outside of work and that might cause me to actually have to take a personal phone call. I would work much more than the expected 40 hours but God forbid I take 15 minutes to handle a medical emergency with my son.

    I love the description of viewing yourself like you are in a movie. That movie is important and Hollywood is a bad place from which to learn how to be a leader, generally at least. I’ve fallen victim to that myself, where I felt more important than I really was. That makes it easy to look down on others and think I’m better than they are. Ego ALWAYS comes across to others and it never makes them feel good.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Wow that last sentence is powerful man.

  2. Lily Kreitinger says:

    I’ll share two more ways you can make a team member cry:

    – Say absolutely nothing at a meeting where they’re getting raked over the coals and the team is talking like the person is not even in the room.

    – Write on their performance evaluation, for all supervisors to see, that the person needs to be “billable” for eight hours a day after they had a 15 minute phone conversation with their mother during work hours, two weeks after their father died.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Wow Lily. That sucks. Sounds like the experience of @733ebfc43437ea1bfaf0e23e0ad08f5f:disqus too. Ironically both 15 minute phone calls.

      On behalf of every leader who has made someone cry and has repented, I’m sorry.

  3. Bret Wortman says:

    How about the corollary to claiming credit: Passing on the blame? The best leaders I’ve worked for are the first to give credit to the team but they retain the blame for themselves. They made the team accountable, but they kept responsibility for themselves. Or something like that. It’s early, dude….

    I also think that great leaders listen. A lot. Bad leaders may hear, but great leaders listen.

    Curse you for getting me thinking again so early!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      LOL! Well while you’re thinking go read the latest one http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/jasmyn-or-of-death-and-taxes/

      Ooooh, passing the blame, That is a good one of course. Nothing says “I’m gonna make you bawl” like “Hey, it’s all Bret’s fault, that pathetic, no-good, imbecile” when it’s not even your fault.

      After all, leaders are unable to make mistakes right?

      1. Bret Wortman says:

        If the team succeeded, then you did everything right as a leader, but so did the team. Give them the credit.

        If the team failed, then they did something wrong, but so did you as a leader. Take the blame and learn from it. Help the team achieve next time.

  4. jryan2445 says:

    I have a box of tissues in my office for just this. Sometimes crying is my fault, sometimes it’s a good thing, and sometimes I have seen it used as a defense. Uggh I hate the tears that are used to make me feel bad after I have had to confront someone on some poor performance.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I was too heartless to ever need tissues for that reason, but I’m sure we needed a budget for all the times I made others cry.

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