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!