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Not everyone you lead will have a great attitude, be hard working, or collaborative. And as a leader, it is your job to manage those who others will refer to as “unmanageable” or “unleadable.”

Difficult employees come in different forms. There are those who are chronically late, deliver poor quality work but then always have their excuses, the ones resistant to policies and processes, or who just isn’t a team player. The list of what makes certain employees challenging is never-ending.

What do exceptional leaders do when confronted with problematic employees? How can you approach people who are hard to manage with minimal frustration?

Appreciate Diversity

Not everyone is cut from the same cloth. Diverse backgrounds and unique upbringings can be the source of why people behave differently in the same situation. Before you judge someone or immediately establish that person as a “difficult” employee, take the time to consider why they react to situations the way they do. Be open to the various possibilities and explanations.

Believe in Good Intentions

Too often, we get ahead of ourselves. At the first sign of trouble, we immediately welcome negative thoughts and put labels on people. It then snowballs as we start to list every tiny misstep. But if you initially and genuinely believe that a person doesn’t have ill intentions, only errors in judgment, you’ll stop counting strikes and help turn the situation around. Don’t always assume the worst; when you look for negativity, that’s all you will find.

Give Behavioral Feedback That Is Clear

Giving feedback is tough, and it’s even harder giving it to employees who don’t have the best track record with following processes and policies. However, some people need to hear the rules and how they’ve broken them rather than read it in a manual and decide if it applies to them or not.

You’ll be tempted to be diplomatic but be too vague, and the employee may brush it aside as if it is a fair warning that you are delivering to all the employees. Be specific about the behavior that needs to be improved, and they will pay attention.

Have Patience and Be Ready to Listen

When we are frustrated by the performance of a challenging employee, we tend to shut down. We give up on them emotionally. We figure that the best use of our energy is to focus on the members of the team who work hard and “deserve” our support.

However, a great leader knows that what is best for the whole team is to take steps to improve the situation. Avoiding the troublesome employee and sheltering the others doesn’t solve anything.

Be ready to communicate. Sitting down and listening to what your difficult employee has to say is the first step to saving your team. It may surprise you that they have legitimate reasons why they act the way they do.

Do you struggle with challenging employees? Have you had to lead those that frustrated you and made you think that they were unleadable? How did you handle it?

I’d love to exchange leadership insights with you. As a former CEO and COO, I can tell you that there have been many times in my 25 years of organizational business experience where my patience has been tested by problematic employees. That’s why today, I have taken on the challenge of helping leaders develop themselves so that they can lead even the most difficult people and in the process, learn something valuable. Let’s connect:

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Inscape Consulting Group
Greg Nichvalodoff, BSc. BM (Honors), MBA, PCC, CMC
Office: 604.943.0800
Mobile: 604.831.4734