Five Ways Leaders Unintentionally Sabotage the Team and One Way Forward (Alli Polin)

Winning Well Connection

Click on the image to visit Karin’s store and download the book she co-authored with Alli free.

Ever since I met Alli online, I’ve considered her a kindred spirit in the leadership space. Also a former executive, a mom, and a leadership writer and consultant, we’ve shared so many common challenges and values. Alli and I really got to know one another through our collaboration around two projects: the Energized Leadership book and our e-book A Parent’s Guide to Leadership (available for free download here). I’m grateful for our friendship and continued support on our leadership journeys. 

You want to be a good leader. Heck, why stop at good? You want to be a great leader, and that means keeping a lot of plates spinning. If it doesn’t get done and get done right, it’s your head. That could be why you may have adopted some less than helpful behaviors along the way.

Many years ago, I worked for a manager who told me, “Your job isn’t to make me look good, it’s to do your job to the best of your ability. My job is to make you look good and help you stretch to be your best.”

I remember the conversation nearly 20 years later because she was the first person I’d ever worked for who put maximizing my contribution at the top of her list. She cared not only about her success, but ours. Not to mention, she was invested in our relationship and as a result, so was I.

Many of the other people I worked for had an underlying drive to prove themselves as worthy leaders. It was as if they alone were the ones to get it done, make things happen, and create success. It never quite felt that we were on the same team.

Don’t get me wrong. I learned a lot working for them too. They just picked up some bad habits on their quest to get things right. They were sabotaging the team by taking on sole responsibility for team success. Truth is, they were sabotaging their leadership too.

Five Ways Leaders Unintentionally Sabotage the Team and One Way Forward

Taking all the meetings

Bet you know leaders who go from meeting to meeting with little time to even go to the bathroom let alone do their job. Moreover, the team can’t reach them for help or insight because they’re always in meetings.

Speaking for other leaders

Most senior leaders are asked for details about issues that are happening on the front line. While you, the leader, have an understanding of it, you’re not the one closest to it. Still, the temptation is to know everything and have every answer, so you speak for the leaders who work for you and hope you’re getting it mostly right.

Giving detailed directions all the time

How else can you get exactly what you want if you don’t tell them exactly what to do? (Hint: lots of ways) The trouble is that you have smart people who work for you that can and want to figure things out. Also, when you dictate the details, you miss out on creativity and alternative paths and solutions.

Treating the team like Tinker Toys™ 

When results are less than optimal, there are leaders who jump in and make changes to team structure, process, and incentives to stimulate increased (and immediate) success. Always tinkering to find the magic combination, the team never has enough time with any one approach to acclimate and determine what’s possible.

Taking your bad day out on the nearest body

A culture of fear may get results, but it won’t get the best from employees or a good reputation in the market. We all know what it feels like when stress reaches a breakpoint; however, blame and raised voices only serve to give people a reason to leave, not to stay.

The Way Forward: If you don’t want to unintentionally sabotage your team (who would want that?) you have to talk to them to get their input and support to make a positive change. It may feel painful and be intimidating to let yourself be vulnerable but never forget, change starts with a relationship.

Schedule a series of 1x1s and ask the following questions:

What do you need from me? Where do you need to grow? (Here’s what I see, what do you see?) Where do I need to grow? (Here’s what I see, what do you see?) How can I best support you?” It’s not too late to change. The key is to do it.

Winning Well Reflection

What a great list from Alli! Look back on our careers, we can see places where we committed some of these self-sabotaging maneuvers. As we reflect on these items, we’re reminded of the need to trust your people. Train them and trust them. Give them power (including the power to get it wrong – within healthy limits) so they can grow.



Posted in Winning Well International Symposium and tagged , .

David Dye

David Dye helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. He’s the President of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. He’s the award-winning authors of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and hosts the popular Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast. David is a former executive and elected official. David and his wife and business partner, Karin Hurt, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Great list Alli!

    Taking all the meetings can be such a temptation as leaders lose focus on why they are they and who they are supposed to serve. I can think of a specific time in my life I needed that reminder!!!

  2. Loved this piece of wisdom: “Your job isn’t to make me look good, it’s to do your job to the best of your ability. My job is to make you look good and help you stretch to be your best.” Thanks so much for sharing…and I love your list! I’ve found that the temptation to have all the answers and take all the credit is the one thing that can destroy team morale quicker than anything…

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