#137: 10 of the Worst Mistakes Bosses Make With Employees

Plus Bonus Whitepaper

Most companies are full of employees with boundless enthusiasm, energy, understanding, tolerance, flexibility, and top-notch job skills. What? Not so at your company?

Mistakes Discipline Employee

If your company is not perfect or if some of your employees occasionally miss the mark, then discipline is a practical skill you need as a manager. The trouble is most of us do not think about disciplining employees as being a skill. Discipline usually falls into the “immediate reaction to disaster” category. As managers, we go to classes to learn how to use our computers, attend leadership seminars, etc., but rarely–if ever–do we devote time to learning about or refining our skills as disciplinarians.

Discipline is hardly a new concept. The first occurrence of Biblical discipline occurs in Genesis when God gives Adam instructions about not eating fruit from the tree of knowledge (Gen. 2:16-17). The last example of Biblical discipline occurs in Revelation when God warns not to add or take away anything from the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).

There are several words in the Old Testament that translate to discipline and they occur over 100 times. One word means verbal discipline, another means either verbal or physical discipline. The definitions of these words focus on the purpose of discipline being to instruct, or correction that leads to education.

For all the time we take learning to be better leaders and managers, we spend precious little time considering how to provide good discipline in the form of training that instructs or leads to education. Here are a few of the most obvious discipline errors:


Yelling is a great way to vent frustration, but it is seldom an effective tool in a manager’s tool bag. Employees of bosses who yell all the time soon learn to tune them out.

Proverbs tells us, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man” (Prov. 22:24). Why not? The answer comes in Proverbs 29:22: “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.”


When was the last time someone told you, “Do it now, I don’t care what you think?” Do you recall feeling inspired? Were you in awe of being in the presence of a remarkable leader, or did you feel unappreciated, lower than pond scum?


Don’t think for a minute that nagging is the prerequisite of in-laws. An amazing number of bosses exhibit this irritating behavior as well.  A boss who nags about little things all the time is wearisome indeed.

If you want happy, enthusiastic employees, avoid being a crabby, nagging boss.


Ahh, the joys of a good lecture! Remember when you were a teenager? About two minutes into your parent’s monolog you knew where the conversation was going, and you tuned out. Your parents knew you tuned out because they would yell (see #1), “Are you listening to me?” The problem with lectures is that they are one-sided, boring, and often do not address the real problem.


Been under a little stress lately? Who hasn’t in today’s business environment? You’ve heard the saying “the calm before the storm.” In today’s business, there’s little hope for anything other than fleeting moments of calm.


Another favorite of some of the less sensitive bosses out there is shaming people into submission. Comments like “How could you be so stupid?” or “That’s the dumbest idea I ever heard!” are typical. To be really effective, these comments are often offered in front of the employee’s peers.


Bosses who set traps to catch employees making mistakes, lying, etc., are among the employees’ “favorites.” What self-respecting, enthusiastic employee wouldn’t want a boss who made work like walking through a live mine field?


Some bosses have the unique ability to make employees feel guilty for their failures. When the boss misses a deadline and loses a customer, it becomes someone else’s fault for not reminding him to get the bid in on time.


Physical abuse may be as simple as getting nose-to-nose with someone, or more obvious when tempers get out of control and someone gets pushed or shoved. Physical abuse also includes bosses who try to discipline employees by forcing them to do dangerous work they are not prepared or trained to do.


Coercion leaves an employee feeling completely powerless. This is not the feeling you want if you are trying to develop an “empowered organization.” Avoid coercion by leading your employees, not by dragging or punishing them.

One Final Thought

Some bosses handle disciplinary sessions as though they were putting on armor and going to battle. When you are faced with your next disciplinary problem, remember that your objective is to provide instruction that leads to education. Only this will lead to the long-term productivity gains that you want.

Remember also that Jesus forgave sinners, and we are commanded to be like Jesus. As your next disciplinary session is about to begin, the only “armor” you should be putting on is the armor of God; particularly the breastplate of righteousness (Isa. 59:17).

Bonus Whitepaper

If you would like a broader discussion on this topic, download the free whitepaper, 10 of the Worst Mistakes Bosses Make With Employees.” It includes:

  1. a broader discussion of the ten mistakes bosses make disciplining their employees and
  2. ten things you can do as a leader to provide Biblically sound discipline.

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you worked for a boss that used one or more of the ten-discipline mistakes listed above? What was the impact on you? On the organization?


Category: Skills | Discipline

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I have a Lieutenant who used to play the “gotcha” game with subordinates. Kind of like the “setting traps” you referred to. He would ask them a question that he already knew the answer to. When they replied incorrectly he would immediately correct them with the answer. I pulled him aside later, privately, and told him to knock it off. All he was doing was alienating his subordinates and looking like a jerk. My message to my team has always been: “Treat people the way you would like to be treated.” Which is basically the Golden Rule! Thanks, Ron.

    • Ron says:

      I’d love to say I never had to work with someone who played the “gothca” game but over the years there were quite a few – both inside the company and in some of our customers. I get the purpose of asking questions to see if someone knows what they’re doing but to dress someone down in front of others or do it just to be spiteful is just plain bad leadership!