Are You a Difficult Leader?

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ARE YOU A DIFFICULT LEADER?
By
Sarah H. Elliston, author of “Lessons from a Difficult Person”

What is Leadership? I see it as the ability to gain the cooperation of the people around you to work together to achieve a goal.  However, the synonyms are scary:  directorship, control, supremacy, power, command, dominion, rule.  Yikes.  Is that what we want to be? Leaders who manipulate and use fear to motivate are difficult leaders.  They don’t care about cooperation as much as they are about achieving a goal, no matter the cost.   

How do we know if we are an effective leader or a difficult leader?

Recently, on a radio-interview show, I was asked by a caller about how to deal with his difficult staff.  They came late to meetings, he complained, and they didn’t prepare even though he carefully sent them important materials to read before the meeting.  He didn’t think they were cooperative and he described them as slackers. 

I had only few minutes with him and encouraged him to call me personally so we could really talk but I did ask him if he wanted to feel better about the situation.  He said yes so I invited him to consider looking at it differently.  I asked him if he could find one thing about each staff person that he found acceptable or even positive.  If not each person, could he find it for one of them?

My point was that in dealing with difficult people, we first have to take the emotion, the drama, the judgement out of the equation.  The world only gives us information and we get to choose how we look at that information. 

I didn’t want to suggest on the air that maybe he was the difficult person.  And when he called me I asked him these questions:

1. How much time do you find yourself criticizing, blaming, name calling, complaining, nagging, threatening, and punishing/rewarding to control?

These toxic habits of behavior will never lead to cooperation.  Dr. William Glasser, founder of Choice Theory and Reality Therapy has described them as killers of relationships.  My caller was criticizing his staff and complaining about them.  While his disappointment is understandable, the first step in leadership is to drop the toxic habits because as a leader, one sets the tone.  A boss who practices the toxic habits is a difficult leader and will cultivate a toxic staff.  I have found that by looking for something positive about each person, I can change the way I look at the person, thus easing the temptation to criticize and get sucked into the toxic habits.  

2. How do you describe your role in the organization?

 If you are comfortable in your role and see how you advance the organization, chances are you are able to pass this on to your staff. People are more cooperative when they understand why they are doing the work. 

3. Do you think you can make people change?  When was a time you did that and how did it impact your relationship?

The only person we can change is our self.  It’s a fact.  Any kind of force with another will lead to a difficult relationship.  Using force is a toxic habit.

4. How much time do you spend telling people what to do, checking and criticizing their work? 

Supervision and leadership requires us to make sure the work is getting done but how much of it is telling and how much it is guiding?  If we are spending more than half our time telling people what they are doing wrong and giving minute directions, chances are we are a difficult leader.

5. How much time to do you spend supporting, encouraging, listening, trusting, respecting and negotiating differences? 

These actions, identified as the Caring Habits by Dr. Glasser, are those that develop and thrive a relationship.  Leadership is all about developing a rapport so that feedback can be given if mistakes are made without it being criticism. Saying the correct way to do a particular task is not criticism, it is feedback about an action.  Pointing out that it’s the third time we had to tell someone to do it differently and what’s wrong with their hearing? That is criticism. 

If someone does something wrong three times after we have corrected their actions, a non-difficult leader will be supportive and respectful.  We will ask “what’s going on?  What are we missing? How can I help you remember?”

6. Are you a difficult leader? 

Ask yourself these questions.  Look at what you are doing, how you are looking at your staff and your beliefs about them.  Is it working?  Is there a positive atmosphere with people enjoying their work and being productive or is there distrust and disagreement?  Are you practicing the toxic habits or the caring habits?

The choice is yours. 

It is always easier to see what others are doing and to have opinions on what they could do differently to improve.  An effective leader, one who isn’t difficult, is one who asks himself these questions and focuses on what he can do differently. 

Sarah H. Elliston is the author of “Lessons from a Difficult Person – How to Deal With People Like Us”. She is a faculty member of the William Glasser Institute and is a workshop leader and trainer who is certified in Values Realization, Parent Effectiveness Training and Reality Therapy. www.SarahElliston.com


About the Author:

Sarah H. Elliston is the author of “Lessons from a Difficult Person – How to Deal With People Like Us”. She is a faculty member of the William Glasser Institute and is a workshop leader and trainer who is certified in Values Realization, Parent Effectiveness Training and Reality Therapy.

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