Yikes! I have the power to make someone cry. That realization came to me on a long walk with a good friend and colleague of mine. We were discussing our business and he told me the story of how earlier in the week something he said to a team member made her cry. That made him realize the magnitude of his position as CEO. He was suddenly aware that he had great power and began to wield that power more carefully.

Leader makes employee cry at work
Five Ways to Make a Team Member Cry. Do the opposite of these things and you will succeed. (Tweet That)

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

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.

I was 28 at the time my friend told me his story 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!

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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.

Five 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, most people are going to leave within three years anyway.

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 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?

This post first appeared on August 28, 2012.


Matt helps online business owners and brands, small and large leverage the power of partners to grow their businesses. He teaches you how to make money as an affiliate and how to work better with affiliates. Entrepreneurs and companies such as Shark Tank's Kevin Harrington, Zig Ziglar, Ray Edwards, Brian Tracy, Lewis Howes, Shutterfly, Jeff Goins, and Michael Hyatt have trusted Matt to run their affiliate launches.

15 thoughts on “The Power of a Leader | Making an Employee Cry at Work

  1. I hace to catch myself as it is not my intentions to make some cry or fell bad. I am always running at 110%, sometimes you have to slow down so the group may catch up.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Great point. When we run at full speed, we forget that others might not be up to our pace that day!

  2. Paul Jolicoeur says:

    Looks like you have also described a boss and not a leader! This type of “leader” is really only leading because of their position. Ultimately we want people to follow because they want to, not because of any feeling of needing too. Thanks for a another great post.

  3. Dan Erickson says:

    I’ve made a few students cry, but usually it’s because they earned a low grade and they are trying to manipulate me through their tears.

    Here you speak of making followers cry in ways we might say are inappropriate. As writers we also have the power to make people cry. If/when you write a poem, a song, a story that makes you, as the writer, cry, your chances of reaching the emotional centers of your readers is greatly increased, and then they may cry. But I think this is a different kind of cry and good for the soul.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      So you’re that professor huh?

      1. Dan Erickson says:

        Nah. It’s been very rare. 🙂

  4. Paige Gordon II says:

    “One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to be oblivious to how he/she makes a team member feel.” – So true man! If more people realized that we would have a lot more happy employees. Thanks for the great reminders on what not to do Matt.

  5. Katherine Leicester says:

    I’ve done a ton of crying over the years as a result of some jerk boss and my own immaturity, in varying ratios of both. I still struggle with emotions that tend to ignore what others are feeling and how my behavior affects their feelings. As a D/I personality style, I wouldn’t naturally care if I’d made someone feel badly because, well, that’s their problem, right?

    Nope. So I’ve begun a new path of self improvement based upon the book and teaching “Emotional Intelligence 2.0.” My overall score is a 64 out of 100. I highly encourage leaders to take advantage of this relatively inexpensive book and EI test. It may open your eyes and give you a path to move forward.

    Oh, yes, and great post again, Matt!

  6. Zech Newman says:

    Well yes and yes. I have cried and made others cry. I have made more team members cry early in ownership probably because of this list. Later on because they could tell I was disappointed then anything. It is great to foster a team that cares so much but also strikes fear to lead with humility. Good reminder Matt.

  7. Jana Botkin says:

    Those types of bosses never made me cry but they certainly caused me to quit! Jerks. See? Still makes me cranky!

  8. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    I’ve never cried…but I’ve become bitter, combative and indignant because of these things.

    It’s interesting that most (if not all) of them find their root in pride.

    Great post my friend. And I love the angle you took!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I’d rather have a team member cry than be bitter. Crying, I know how to handle. Bitterness is hidden. Great point, Mark.

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        That’s right! You’ll never know when I’m bitter towards you!

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