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Excelling with Difficult Employees | AboutLeaders.com
August 16, 2012
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Albert Einstein Quote

The employees who are most difficult to reach are often the eccentric ones, the extremely talented ones, or the rainmakers who bring in the customer base.

I’ve found over the years people that are often labeled “difficult people” are the ones that become our best leaders. Too many managers run off their best people under the guise the person was not a match for the organization.

Managers are really missing a key strategy for gaining a competitive advantage. The organizations and leaders that become great are the ones that know how to make a difference with the eccentric types by smoothing their rough edges and developing their leadership skills.

Why Do Managers Run People Off?

Many managers don’t effectively lead strong willed people as they often manage their tenacity right out of them. As a result, organizations unfortunately lose their greatest people. They mistakenly believe that such people are unreachable, too intense, head strong, and abrasive. Because team members are not “yes people” managers end up creating a gap in the relationship by ignoring them, overtalking them, and often developing a dislike for this type of individual.

In turn, these team members question their manager’s efficiency because the manager is obviously not addressing matters with them that need to be addressed. This is not a situation that will improve with time but as a leader, you can make the changes necessary to create a culture wherein these problems do not exist. You need to be a risk taker and act upon the principles you know are right. Team members will see this as being proactive and have a high level of respect for you.

What Should I do First?

To start, get over your frustration with these talented people by looking for what they bring to the table. Initiate a two-way conversation right away with them and find out:

  • their goals
  • what generates passion in their life
  • collectively discuss team expectations
  • what they need from you to succeed
  • what you need from them

As a leader, the key is knowing when to implement managerial authority and when to put more focus on “people issues.” The balance of leading and managing rests on your ability to develop as a leader while sustaining high-performing teams and individuals.

When to Lead and When to Manage

bigger picture imageFor many managers, however, this balance of leading and managing is difficult to achieve. Managers that react to difficult people get stuck; they let things go on too long by not addressing their organization’s most glaring issues. They micromanage people with authority, using too many rules and mandates, and continually tell people over and over what to do. In short, managers don’t allow these potential leaders to choose their path to success or move on to your competitor. Think about this: if the competitor knows how to make a break through with your difficult person – they win!

Article Takeaways

Great managers use people skills when they communicate with all types of people by consistently being fair, frank, firm, and friendly. They let their employees know when they, the leaders, make decisions, those are requirements that everyone must fulfill without get mad, showing frustration, or allowing people to bow up. Team members appreciate this. They want their leaders to take a stand.

Leaders let their teams and individual members try to manage themselves but when it becomes clear that the employees do not want to lead their own situations, the leader will manage things for them. They will step in and clarify expectations in a clear, informative, detailed and specific manner. In such a situation, the leaders’ responses are immediate, their intent is to motivate and help. Even though they are using their managerial skills and being more manager than leader for the time being, they can still allow team members to clarify things for themselves and provide their own input on the situation.

With this approach, there are no secrets, which alleviate the stress of having to discipline or even terminate an employee. When everything is upfront and transparent, and interactions align with the core values of teamwork, integrity, and accountability, as we’ve mentioned before, those who do not fit in will weed themselves out. Those who remain will move on to enjoy a clearer, more satisfying working experience—one in which they know what they have to do, and have the support they need to do it.

Reaping the Rewards

rewards imageBalancing your leadership and management skills with difficult people creates momentum and aids in getting ahead of the game. Your decisions at work will be concise, and you will not let people issues become stagnant or stuck again. Most of all, you will work with the choices of your employees and create a well-rounded, well-oiled workplace that runs efficiently and smoothly.

The fun part is making a difference:

  • You have retained and developed outstanding leaders.
  • Individuals get to decide whether they’re going to be valuable contributors or not.
  • No blaming when things go wrong—only managing people’s choices.

What Do You Think?

Have you had a breakthrough with a difficult person? Tell us about it by leaving your comments below!

Want more leadership inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with our easy to use Motivational Checklist.

Dr. Mary Kay Whitaker

Mary Kay is a hype-free business strategist, speaker, author and co-founder of About Leaders. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders including DOE, NNSA, Mars Petcare, Future Foam, Cornell Cookson. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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