Leading Difficult People

If leadership was easy then everybody would be doing it. The fact is, leadership is not easy. It’s not easy because leadership is about people. People come in all shapes and sizes. They bring with them all kinds of backgrounds and upbringings. They carry with them past experiences, good and bad. Sometimes they even bring with them a chip, one they carry on their shoulder. Those “chips” can make them a unique challenge to lead.

But leading difficult people is part of the package a leader accepts. Leading difficult people can be a challenging but essential skill for effective leadership. Whether you’re leading a team or working on a project, dealing with difficult individuals is a not an uncommon occurrence.

But nearly everyone can be led to success if the leader is willing to hang in there with them. Here are some ideas to help you hang.

• Start by trying to understand the difficult person’s point of view. Ask questions and actively listen to their concerns and motivations. Often, people become difficult when they feel unheard or undervalued. Empathy is a powerful tool for building rapport.

• When dealing with difficult people, it’s important to maintain your composure. Don’t let their behavior provoke you into a reaction that you might regret. Take a deep breath, stay patient, and remain level-headed.

• Clearly communicate your expectations for their behavior and performance. Make sure they understand their role and responsibilities, as well as the consequences of not meeting those expectations.

• Consistency in your actions and responses is key. Make sure you treat all team members fairly and equally. This helps prevent any perceived favoritism or bias that can lead to conflict.

• If a difficult person’s behavior is disruptive or problematic, address the issues in private rather than in a public setting. This allows them to save face and reduces the chances of escalation.

• Provide feedback that is specific, objective, and focused on behavior or actions rather than personal characteristics. Use the “I” statements approach to express your feelings and concerns. For example, say, “I felt frustrated when you missed the deadline” rather than, “You’re always late.”

• Clearly define the boundaries for acceptable behavior within the team or organization. Enforce those boundaries consistently and fairly.

• Look for areas of common interest or shared goals and use them to build rapport. Finding common ground can help bridge gaps between difficult individuals and the team.

• Encourage difficult individuals to develop their skills and work on self-improvement. Offer training, coaching, or resources to help them grow and address their problem areas. Make their faults seem easy to correct.

• If necessary, involve HR or a higher-level manager to help mediate or address more serious issues. They can provide guidance, support, or disciplinary action if required.

• Keep records of problematic behavior and interactions, including dates, times, and descriptions. This documentation can be helpful if you need to escalate the issue or if it becomes a pattern of behavior.

• Sometimes, a person may be difficult due to external factors such as personal problems, stress, or health issues. Consider the context and be open to offering support or accommodations when appropriate.

• Changing behavior or attitudes can take time. Be patient, but also be persistent in your efforts to lead and difficult individuals effectively.

The sad reality is that not all difficult people can be transformed, and some may need to be led differently. In extreme cases, they may need to be removed from the team or organization to maintain a healthy working environment. Your approach should depend on the specific situation and the impact of the individual’s behavior on the team’s overall performance and well-being.

Redirecting someone to another organization or another role is not the most rewarding part of leadership but it is a mighty important one. Ignoring a difficult team member and hoping they will improve or simply “go away” is not leading.

If you’ve accepted a leadership position then it is imperative that you Lead…Today!

When “they” Ain’t the Boss but Neither are You

I like people who understand what being a leader actually means and yet they still want to be a leader. Those people are willing to invest a part of themselves in helping other people grow and succeed. While they may make a living by leading, their primary goal is to make a difference. A difference in their organization, I should add a positive difference, but even more importantly, a positive difference in the lives of the people they lead. 

I’m much less fond of people who merely want to be a boss. You know, those people who want power and control over other people. They often have oversized egos and most everything they do they do with an eye towards how it will benefit them. Those people are hard to work for but it’s even worse working with them. That’s because even though they have no real authority, or often, no ability, they act as if they do. 

They frequently try to bully people into doing what they tell them to do. They insinuate that “one day” they will be the boss and they will remember who did what they were told and especially remember those who didn’t. The veiled threat is intended to coerce compliance and often, it works. 

Working with people who think they are the boss but aren’t can be downright maddening. But unfortunately it happens so it’s essential to find effective ways to navigate the situation professionally. Here are a few ideas to work in that environment without looking uncooperative, resistant and less than a team player.

  • Regardless of their behavior, treat them with respect and professionalism. Avoid engaging in power struggles or arguments, as this can escalate tensions.
  • Try to understand why they may feel the need to assert authority. They might be compensating for insecurities or trying to gain recognition. Empathy can help you approach the situation more constructively.
  • While being respectful, assert yourself when necessary. Be confident in expressing your thoughts and ideas, and never let their behavior undermine your own sense of worth.
  • Clearly define your roles and responsibilities to avoid confusion. Politely but firmly remind them of your position and authority when they overstep their bounds.
  • If you face ongoing issues, consult your actual supervisor or even a higher authority in the organization. Explain the situation calmly, focusing on how it affects your work and the team dynamic.
  • Avoid confrontations in public or heated environments. Find a private setting where you can discuss the situation calmly and rationally.
  • Emphasize that everyone’s objective is to work toward the success of the team or project. Redirect the focus on achieving the best outcomes rather than power dynamics.
  • Collaborate with other team members and colleagues who may be experiencing similar challenges. Unity can create a supportive environment that challenges inappropriate behavior. But remember, “collaborating” doesn’t mean whisper campaigns full of complaining and rumors. If your collaboration doesn’t include solutions to the problem then you’re likely not helping anyone. 
  • Keep a record of any problematic encounters or instances where the individual oversteps boundaries. This documentation can be useful if you need to escalate the issue later.
  • In severe cases, involve a neutral third party or HR representative to mediate the situation and find a resolution. Don’t think for a minute that this is a gutless solution. These “bosses who aren’t bosses” can be a cancer in an organization and there’s no need for you to play Don Quixote and try to “fix” the situation on your own. 
  • Demonstrate leadership qualities in your own actions and decisions. Be someone others can look up to, irrespective of their perceived authority.
  • Use the situation as an opportunity for personal development. Learn from the experience and find ways to improve your own communication and conflict resolution skills.

People regularly can and do lead without a position of authority. They use influence, not coercion to lead people in a constructive and positive manner. They have the best interests of other people at the heart of everything they do. If you’re wondering in you’re being led by a leader without a position of leadership just ask yourself “what’s in it for them?” If nothing comes to mind they are likely leading.

If you’re wondering if you’re being bossed by a “boss who ain’t a boss” ask yourself the same question. It should take about a second to develop a list of everything that’s in it for them. And helping others is very unlikely to be on your list.

Remember that working with challenging personalities is part of professional life. Maintaining your composure and professionalism is crucial for your own well-being and career advancement. Never surrender control of your attitude or professionalism to a less professional person. Because it’s those two attributes that will eventually help you persevere.

Want more of LeadToday? I’ve changed things up on my Twitter feed for subscribers. I recently began publishing two or three videos each week focusing on an element of Authentic Leadership. I’ll post these videos each Tuesday and Thursday morning. Sometimes a bonus video pops up at other times during the week. They will be about 10 minutes long so we can get into the topic in a more meaningful way. The investment for subscribers in still only $4.99 a month. That’s for at least 80 MINUTES of quality video content on leadership a month.

If you’re interested in taking a look, head on over to my Twitter profile page. If you’re not a follower yet just hit the follow button. It will change to a subscribe button and once you hit that you’re on your way. You can cancel at any time you’ve decided you have nothing left to learn about leading the people who you count on for your success.

Here’s the link to my Twitter… https://twitter.com/leadtoday