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Leaders are often tasked with leading difficult people. But, let’s face it, whether you lead just you, your own business, an entire department, or hundreds of employees from the helm of an organization, chances are you encounter, lead, and or are perhaps even married to, someone who at times, seems difficult. Determining how to lead them becomes just as difficult as the person’s behavior is perceived by others, yet as someone who wrote the book Make Difficult People Disappear, I can tell you it’s not as difficult as you might think. And yes, you can eradicate the difficult behavior without getting in trouble. Yes, you can coach them, motivate them, and even in some cases appropriatly promote them without conjuring up images of choking them. Specifically, for those in roles of leadership, these 10 steps will show you how, step by step. Let’s start with an easy one:

Change the Labels

Whether promoted, prepared, or inherited, leading what you think are difficult team members is exhausting and frustrating. Change how you see them. Label them as different instead of immediately difficult. This method may seem overly simplistic, but consider your mindset when you have to go talk to someone who is difficult. You brace for impact and dread the conversation. If you’re about to coach someone who’s different, your emotions remain more neutral.

Determine Motivation

Difficult or not, there is a reason for their behavior. Figure out what they are really after. The difficult person’s approach may be unorthodox, but even negativity gets attention and if whining gets them that, they’re succeeding. Just giving them attention without the drama, though would be much easier for you and the team.

Reduce Their Stress

Stress is a strong provocateur of difficult reactions. Stress comes from not having one’s needs met. Find out what motivates them, really. Then stop getting in the way, even inadvertently, of them being able to get what is needed to achieve said motivation.

Stop Tolerating Bad Behavior

One reason for the habitual persistence of difficult employee behavior is no one stops them. No one issues consequences. No one says cut it out. No one professionally and firmly draws any boundaries. Don’t be that leader.

Stop Promoting Bad Behavior

Like it or not, leadership is both a responsibility and a privilege. As a leader, one cannot abdicate from addressing even the difficult issues for which they are responsible. And for heaven’s sake, if you’re not going to address the difficult behavior and even attempt to make it disappear or seek help in doing so, don’t promote the person to be someone else’s problem or difficult leader who influences an entirely new crop of difficult team members.

Deal With It

Though likely obvious, difficult people also persist at the office if no one actually deals with the issue. One can motivate, free-up from stress, and label in whatever way you please, but if the behavior continues, one must also address the issue. This means be honest, be open, be firm, and be clear about what will happen if it continues to continue.

Learn More About Personalities

Commonly called emotional intelligence, this broad scope of knowledge is extremely important in leadership. Use an assessment. Do some reading. Expose your knowledge base to more than the awareness of people are merely different. Learn the personalities, the traits of each of them, and how yours differs from those of your team members.

Practice New Approaches

Once you go beyond the awareness of others’ differences, leaders must practice new approaches to each person with a personality unlike their own. Will giving details work for that person, but not another? Does a big trophy motivate this person, but not that one? Does that employee think you’re intimidating when the other one likes your directness?

Lead Differently

With answers to the new approach questions and conscious effort in practicing, you will find you become more adept in changing how you lead each person differently. Want to get them to stop being difficult? Stop assuming they are all the same and all respond in the same way to the same message.

Be Patient

Some people will see this method and visually demonstrate the gag reflect. Being patient does not imply tolerance, but is instead focused on the leader leading him or herself. Be patient with yourself learning to change your approach for different people. It will be confusing at first, feel awkward at times and will not be what comes easiest, but the different approaches will make your leadership easier.

The concepts of difficult people and leadership are undeniably connected. As a leader, you will often lead difficult people. When you do, others may see you as a difficult person. Successful leadership reduces the frustration of both scenarios and allows you to develop you and others in the process.

Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist who coaches, consults with, and speaks to leaders of all levels, building their skills, emotional intelligence and authenticity. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.


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