disengaged leaders

Signs of Disengaged Leaders

How to Recognize Disengaged leaders (and Other Employees)

Your team is racking up the achievements, but recently something seems off.  Productivity is dropping and camaraderie is fading away.  What is going on?  Whether through you or your team members, disengagement is infecting your team.  Regardless of the trigger, disengaged leaders and other employees is a significant issue that needs to be recognized and addressed as quickly as possible. 

Any delay in addressing detachment in yourself and your team, can seriously damage your firm’s culture.  In Achievers Workforce Institute’s 2021 Culture Report, 79 percent of organizations cited “belonging” as essential element of success.  Employees with a keen sense of fitting in were more connected, productive, creative and satisfied at their jobs.  Knowing the importance of belonging, how will you recognize disengaged leaders and other employees?  What can you do to resolve the issue?

Disengaged Leaders’ Withdrawal

Disengaged employees at all hierarchal levels begin to do the minimum needed to get along.  They stop contributing discretionary efforts and avoid extra non-essential conversations or activities.

When the disengaged employee is your team member, meet with them to hear their side of what is happening.  Giving your team member the chance to voice their experiences is a respect- building move that builds trust.  If it is you, step back and take time to understand why you feel this way.  If you have a mentor at work, talk to them about your concerns. 

Ask yourself a couple of questions. Is the catalyst to your withdrawal repairable, or is it time to look for a company where you can flourish?  Is the problem you, or are you burned out?  If you are burned out, it’s time to take a mini-break from work.  You need to do this, even if only for an evening or weekend of nature hiking.  Do whatever your go-to relaxation activity is, so you can be present at work, and home, once more.

Failure to Communicate is a Sign of a Disengaged Leader

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Captain’s speech in movie Cool Hand Luke

The irony in the movie line from Cool Hand Luke always makes me smile, but communication breakdown is serious.  It’s also another sign of disengaged leaders and other employees and it is deadly to efficiency and productivity.  The following questions may help you recognize signs of failure to communicate. Have you become distracted during meetings?  Do you need more one-on-one meetings because you didn’t share important information in team meetings or group calls? A leader’s silence on group calls or in meetings can be deafening.  You might miss team member’s silence, but it is another sign of a disconnected employee.

When an employee seems distant, work to connect one on one with them.  Learn what drives them to their  goals, and introduce or change productivity incentives. Take the time to communicate their importance to the team. If it is you disengaging, it is harder to recognize and correct the source of the trouble.  When you are out of the office after work, take time for introspection. Until you know why you are disengaging, make a point of participation. You might find it helps you re-engage. 


Disengaged leaders and other employees show lethargy.  If you, yourself feel drained the minute you prepare to go to work, you might be disengaging from your work.  Another sign is increased break time and/or number of breaks, or shortening the day in other ways.  When you see this in yourself or your team, deal with the problem right away. 

Either a temporary workload adjustment or wellness break might help a disengaged employee recover from burnout. If you feel exhausted out of proportion to what you are accomplishing, you may need to adjust your own workload.  If you have personal days available, take one and chill, or work out.  Both can help re-energize you. If time off or workload adjustments are an option currently, try listening to motivational podcasts during your commute.

Self-interest Over Team Goals

It’s normal to want to focus on your own goals.  You have deadlines to meet, and your team has their assignments. But as a leader, the goals of the team take priority over your individual goals.  You don’t and shouldn’t do your team’s work.  However, you do need to make yourself present and available to team questions and concerns. 

To engage your team, set goals that are meaningful, measurable and achievable through effort. The goal must clearly connect to the goals of the company.  It takes an engaged leader to create team engagement and to help guide them to find their own answers. If you make yourself unavailable, it is time to take a hard look at yourself and your work.

Apathy in Disengaged Leaders

When employees at any level no longer bother to defend their idea, the problem is bigger than a bad concept.  Anyone not accountable for their actions or lack of, are probably looking to leave.  You might even want them to leave, but discontent spreads damaging attitude quickly through a workforce.  It would be better to have the honest conversation with the apathetic employee, reconciling it if you can.  If not, be careful to document problems and get them out of the company as quickly as possible.

Unstable Expectations

Constant change in directives to subordinates is a sign of disengaged leaders.  Workers under them are in danger of becoming as disengaged from frustration and inability to complete any assignment before the assignment is changed.  It is a difficult environment to work in, and a sign the leader needs help to get back on track. 

Review the goals you assigned for the last few weeks.  Do assignments contradict each other?  Consistency is important, and if you can avoid constantly revising the plan, do so.  Overly detailed plans are problematic because they don’t leave room for your team to adjust as needed.  Keep the plan general and let your team make those adjustments.  Your constant changes will kill off initiative and creative problem solving.

Fear of Growth

Great leaders grow future leaders.  When a leader is afraid their team will pass them up, the team is handicapped.  This is the breeding ground for disengaged employees, lack of productivity and discontented workforce.  Check yourself. 

Are you pushing your team to think for themselves within the parameters of goals you set? Or do you intervene out of frustration with their lack of progress?  Do you welcome their ideas, or constantly tell them why their ideas and methods won’t work?  Do you trust them to do the job, or do you micromanage them to make sure they don’t veer off the path?  Checking their work is okay, but if they are getting off track, help them figure it out themselves.  They will grow, and so will you. As a leader, you need to recognize and address disengaged leaders and other employees.   

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