You know who I'm talking about. Every group has them. Where leaders often go wrong is that they expect not to have difficult people. A leader needs to expect difficult people in every group--and be prepared to handle them.

Let's take a look at four types of difficult people who are likely to join your organization and how you can best lead them.


The Lazy Whiner

"This is so hard. This will never work. I can't find the time. I'm so busy."

Every time they speak up, on a conference call or in private, you have the urge to play violin music. I hate to say it, but there are lazy people in the world. Not bad; just lazy. And when they discover that this business takes a little effort, it brings that laziness out. (It wouldn't be so bad if they were just lazy, but that whining...!)


The "This is So Bad" Whiner

This person sees the negative in every situation. His business isn't going well, no one's business is going well, the company you represent is going down the tubes, the product is mediocre, the service is bad, the leadership is weak.... Whew! It's tiring just to list how bad things are! And it's tiring to have to listen to that list at every meeting, too.

With both the Lazy Whiner and the "This is So Bad" Whiner, leadership requires direct communication. Pull them aside and tell them:

"Joe, I need to talk to you about something. One of my goals as the leader is to keep people optimistic. I'm feeling that some of your comments are detrimental to that goal. I know that you want to succeed in this business, and that means helping me keep the team up. So, here is what I would like to see from you: I need you to watch what you say and how you say it. Make an effort to only say positive things. If you have something that could be perceived as negative, I would like you to communicate it to me personally when no one else is around, okay?"


The Caller

This person calls you...and calls you...and calls you. And when he isn't calling, he is emailing. These folks can take up so much time! Which wouldn't be so bad if they were top producers, but it often seems they call just to kill time...your time.

Here's what you say to the Caller:

"Tom, I appreciate that you want to succeed in this business, and I want to help you. There's something I need to talk to you about. I really need to watch how I spend my time. I need you to help me by doing something. I would like to set up a standing phone call with you for 20 minutes every two weeks where I can give you my full attention and help you solve any problems that may come up. If there's an absolute emergency between times, you can certainly call me. What time works for you?"


The Talker

This person talks at every meeting, all meeting long. You know you have one of these in your group when you find yourself feeling dread every time you ask, "Does anyone have anything to add?"

This is more than simply annoying; it can be damaging. Others may eventually stop coming to your meetings because they can't stand to hear the other guy talk. They may start talking about him behind his back and the situation can turn sour in a hurry.

Here's what you need to do to lead the Talker; pull Bob aside and say:

"Bob, I appreciate that you have many fine things to contribute. However, I need your help in something. I want to draw as many people out in our meetings as possible and get them talking. This means that you will sometimes need to refrain from talking, even if you have something good to say. Can you keep it to two items per meeting? This way, we open the floor for everyone to be heard and to contribute, which will be very good for group and team dynamics. Can you help me with that?"

There are other kinds of difficult people, but these are some of the most common, and if you can start by whipping these folks into shape, you'll be further along than most!

Here are a few things you may notice common to all of the above responses:


I was direct.

I was complimentary.

I assumed the best of them.

I told them what I wanted.

I asked them if they would help me achieve my goal.


That is leadership.

Ultimately, you may find yourself faced with this question: "Do I invest time in this person and try to lead them, or do I let them go from the team?" I suggest that you give them a chance, but there may be a time where you need to let them go. Trust your gut.

Leadership is tough. Nobody likes confrontation. But if you want to lead difficult people, and they will surely come, you will need to address the situation head on.


CHRIS WIDENER is the president of Made for Success, a company devoted to helping people turn their potential into performance, succeed in every area of their lives, and achieve their dreams.