There’s no escaping it. As a leader you will have to deal with difficult employees. By “difficult,” I’m referring to the myriad of attitudes ranging from egotistic, entitled and self-absorbed, to disrespectful, combative and just plain old arrogant. And then there’s the behavior issues such as resistance to change, ignoring rules and standards and lack of accountability. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean because it’s likely you have difficult employees on your team right now. The question is, what are you going to do about it – and when?
Difficult employees create drag and impede progress. It’s like a ship trying to gain speed while dragging an anchor. And the longer a leader allows the situation to continue, the more contamination spreads in the company culture. Difficult employees sap energy and divert attention away from work thereby adding unnecessary costs. Although leaders know they must engage and deal with difficult employees, too many allow these situations to continue until they go critical.
How much pain can you and your company endure? That’s my response to leaders that ask me how and when to deal with difficult employees. I’m not suggesting that leaders pounce on any employee at the first sign of negative behaviors. I am suggesting that leaders engage difficult employees with a measured response that begins by acknowledging behaviors as unacceptable with the employee and provide coaching. Should the behaviors continue, leaders must ratchet up the intensity of their response. This means specific coaching with timelines for improvement. This process continues with clearly defined consequences until termination becomes the only solution.
Here is a hit list of leadership blockages that prevent leaders from engaging and dealing with difficult employees:
- Fear confrontational situations: Get over it. You’re confusing “confrontation” with “coaching.” As leader, it’s your responsibility to help employees achieve their full potential so the company can achieve its full potential. Engage, be respectful and coach difficult employees early. The longer you procrastinate, the more contamination you allow into your culture.
- Don’t want to rock the boat: The boat is already rocking. More importantly, your team sees it and they’re waiting for you to engage. Your leadership credibility is on the line.
- Employee is a high producer and you can’t afford to lose revenue now: I hear this argument all the time. It’s simply an excuse not to engage. It doesn’t matter how productive an employee, it’s your responsibility to protect the integrity of company and its culture – even if that requires you to terminate that high producer. Your business will recover rapidly simply because you eliminated a major source of drag and contamination.
- Previous attempts to correct the problem haven’t worked: This one is interesting because it says the leader gave up and decided to tolerate the difficult employee. What it actually means is that the leader failed to ratchet up coaching process to achieve resolution.
- Procrastination: It’s an excuse. You’re the leader. Engage.
- You’re just stuck: You’ll remain stuck until you sit down with your difficult employee and have that crucial conversation that’s long overdue.
Remember, when it gets to the point where you are fighting harder to protect a difficult employee’s paycheck then the employee, it’s time to make a leadership decision and eliminate the drag from your culture. Allowing the situation to continue is compromise.
If you want to learn more about how you can transition to a no-compromise leader, email me at email@example.com.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO, and author of No-Compromise Leadership