Leading The Difficult

images-1Over the course of my leadership life I have had several occasions to lead difficult people.  I don’t mean people who are simply different from me.  I mean people who are actually hard to lead.

They are usually hard to lead for some very defined reasons:  They resist authority.  They are passive/aggressive in their obedience and follow through on direction.  They are blind to their character gaps and unwilling to change.  They undercut leadership with a critical spirit.  They are demanding in their need for recognition and acclaim.  They live in great fear and find ways to diminish the vision.

Sometimes these reasons are not readily apparent.  It takes time for gaps to be revealed.  People can appear loyal and willing on the outside but are actually very resistant on the inside.  Here are four suggestions for leading difficult people.

1.Don’t put it off.  My biggest regret in leading difficult people is simply putting off the confrontation and hoping that somehow they will get better.  They never do on their own.  The longer you wait, the more damage that can be done to team dynamics, those that difficult people influence, and your own emotional well being.  When you see the first signs of difficulty, determine to have a conversation.  Find out why and assume the best.

2. Have honest conversations.  Once you decide to act, aim for honest conversations.  Confrontation is never fun because you are asking people to take a hard look at themselves, and you can never be sure of the outcome.  I have seen people respond really well and I have had people fly off the handle at me and show strong resistance.  But to have less than honest conversations only masks the real problems and leaves people free to continue to live in damaging relationships.  Name the specific behavior you would like to see change.  Provide specific examples of this behavior being demonstrated and the impact it had on others.

3. Set some boundaries.  Be willing to set some real boundaries on people who are unwilling to receive corrective feedback and make changes.  You cannot afford to simply move on and hope that something different will take place.  If their behavior is having an adverse affect on your team or the organizational environment, then you have to limit that behavior in some way.  You may have to change the scope of their responsibilities.  You may have to make some changes to who reports to them or who they report to.  Every boundary set should be with a desire that this will lead to corrective action.  It should be an attempt to bring positive change and not be punitive.

4. Be willing to bring things to a necessary end.  There may come a point where you will need to bring the relationship and the responsibility to an end.  Again, if I have had a fault, it is in waiting too long before I took someone out of their role, allowing that person to cause even more undue damage on others with their behavior.  Dr. Henry Cloud suggests envisioning the bad situation five years from now.  Do you see any hope for change?  Or do you see the same negative behavior still existing and causing the same organizational problems as today?  If so, then you may already have the will power to act and bring about a necessary ending.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14,15 the Apostle Paul encourages us in this task when he says, And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.  See that no one  repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

We too were probably once difficult to lead in some way.  While we must lead and not shrink back-we can do so with grace and understanding.


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