Have you ever had a difficult team member? Somebody who was very strong and incredibly driven, yet at the same time turned out to be a true ‘nuisance’ to everybody around. Going solo, criticizing others, not acting upon what was asked,…

If you are like most leaders, you probably had quite a hard time with this colleague. You likely repeated over and over again how important it was to be a good ‘team player’, spoke about the ‘lost opportunities’ of not working better together, asked to make constructive suggestions forward… And chances are it didn’t work… With lots of frustration for all parties involved. And with you wondering: should I keep this person, or shouldn’t I?

We are true believers in the concept of ‘workmanship & citizenship’ (see our previous blog post on this subject). For us, somebody is a good performer only if they display both workmanship (great results) and citizenship (good behavior). ‘Poor’ citizenship has to be worked upon. However, be aware that people typically show ‘poor’ behavior in reaction to a situation that bothers them immensely. 

deal with a strong but difficult person in your team

Before labelling somebody as a ‘bad citizen’, we would suggest going through the steps below:

  • Assess whether your ‘nuisance’ person has ‘bad intent’ or ‘positive unexploited energy’.
    So often, the people described above are fighters, and they only want one thing: create the best possible results. If that is the case, stop focusing so much on the negative and decide to leverage the positive attributes of this person. (If, however, they have bad intent, don’t bother reading the rest of this article – it wouldn’t help anyway)

  • Listen to what they have to tell, without losing your nerves.
    If you decide to keep this person (because they have so much to bring to the table), be willing to listen to what they have to say – even if it is harsh. Often there’s a lot of truth in what they’re saying. And, in our experience, the more these people feel they are allowed to pinpoint the truth, the less ‘obnoxious’ they become.

  • Develop a great vision forward together.
    Most of the time, these people have many, great ideas. Use their input. Ask their help in creating a compelling vision for the future, together with the other team members. Once you have a shared vision (rather than a vision shared), you will be astounded by the positive energy your previous ‘problem’ collaborator starts to bring to the table, in true collaboration!

  • Be a true leader.
    No, you won’t be able to turn these people into diplomatic, always positive followers. They will continue to be very strong personalities–and they will continue to be direct and very assertive. That’s where your leadership style will be important. Be a rock, react with serenity, and repeat the 3 steps above. If you do so, not only will your team perform better than ever before, but you will also have their deep esteem.


Contact us if  you want help in creating more alignment in your team.