Student raising their hand in class with a teacher looking very frustrated, representing difficult people

How great leaders deal with challenging people

We analyse everything you need to know about how great leaders deal with challenging people, including keeping your composure and leading by example.
John Sherman

In an ideal world, the workplace would be a place where everybody is excited to work together to be a part of the team and help contribute to the success of the organization. Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal world and there is often an individual or two in the workplace who is unwilling or unable to do a competent job.

Simply put, some people are simply less capable than others and—if it’s not addressed—this can lead to considerable problems within an organization. Of all of the attributes that are expected of leaders, effective management can be among the toughest of them all. It’s inevitable that at some point every leader will encounter a member of the team that is unwilling or unable to do their part. This is when we get to see the difference between what makes a leader, and what makes a great leader.

Break things down and remember everyone starts somewhere

A common mistake among leaders is to assume that because something is easy for them, it should be easy for everybody else as well. It’s important to remember that when somebody is new to a particular task then they may face a sense of resistance or even anxiety.

However, just because a person is struggling with a particular task at first, that doesn’t mean that they’re not capable of achieving it. It could just be that they need the right training and guidance and they could soon be completing the task efficiently and effectively. A great leader can put themselves into the shoes of an inexperienced person and give them the guidance and support they need.

Make sure people are in the right role

A recent report from the UK has shown that one in three workers are in the wrong job. If somebody is in the wrong job for them, then their performance will probably be lacking. The solution? If you have a member of your team that is not performing, then find out their strengths and if possible place them in a more suitable role. Do this and you may find that they flourish and become a very valuable team member in a completely different position.

Having somebody assigned to a role that they are better suited for will not only increase productivity

Follow procedures

Unfortunately, some people are just bad apples and will be uncooperative no matter how hard you try. In such a situation it’s important that you maintain your own sense of professionalism and composure. Don’t allow them to drag you down to their level. Maintain any necessary records of all that is going in, making sure also that you follow the correct disciplinary procedures when necessary.

If it comes to the point where a tough decision needs to be made in regard to the troublesome individual's employment with the company, then at least you have remained professional throughout should any mud-slinging occur. Remember that leadership is also about making difficult decisions to ensure that your organization stays strong.

Keep your composure

Dealing with difficult people can be among the most frustrating things that any leader might have to face, but it is often inevitable. Seeing your best efforts have no impact while the individual seems unable or unwilling to do their best can be frustrating, but a great leader will still maintain his or her composure.

We are all human and we all deal with stress and pressure. When this happens you can identify a great leader by the way they deal with these obstacles. One of the best things to do if you begin to feel that the frustration is getting too much is to walk away from the situation temporarily and gather your thoughts. Speaking with another person about the situation can also help you to release some of your frustrations, so you can handle the situation more easily.

Provide a lift

Sometimes, a lack of motivation might be the root of a problem with a troublesome employee. The 9-5 lifestyle can sometimes get to people, and it affects some people worse than others. Occasionally the whole team might need a pick-me-up to provide a lift in spirits. The best leaders know how to motivate their teams and lift them up when things seam rough or mundane.

Lead by example 

If somebody is struggling with their role at work then it could be that they are doubting whether or not they are up to the job. Getting ‘hands on’ and showing your team that it can be done and how to do it, is a great way to teach and motivate your team through example. Actually showing somebody what needs to be done can be a lot more effective than simply explaining how it is done. We all look to leaders to guide the way and rolling up your sleeves and leading by example is a great way to pass on your experience and boost your team’s confidence.

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