How to Work With People You Wish You Didn't Have to Manage

What's missing from the leadership books?

We read lots and lots of leadership books from experts who tout strategies for employee excellence. Yet we rarely hear about the mid-section of organizations, populated with a group of people who just get by or believe they were treated unfairly, or who quit working a long time ago and stayed with the organization.

Many lack motivation to do more than is necessary, and thus others must pick up the extra work of their peers.

Here's the hard reality: Not every employee is a 'rock star'. Not every employee likes their job. Not every employee wants to be part of your organization. Not every employee has what it takes to get the job done. Some are bored and some are distracted by issues outside the job.

But they are part of our organizations. Firing everyone doesn't make sense, does it? Our managerial skills must be put to the test.

The bottom line? We still need to manage them.

The know-nothing will constantly question your conclusions, but offer nothing which can be criticized. Ask them: "What do you suggest?" and wait patiently for a response

Curmudgeons, critics and lizards

Although HR departments continually use employee engagement to 'inspire' these team members to apply effort in behalf of the organization, it is the manager or leader who works with them every day who must do the heavy lifting.

So here they are, along with a few recommendations for working with them.

The grumpy curmudgeon: "I've been here for thirty years and I don't plan to change." Working with these team members is a special challenge but I have noticed one thing over time: they are money players.

If you're managing them, and you need to get them to do something different make sure you articulate 'what's-in-it-for-them?'

The self-styled expert: "Why don't they use my incredible ideas?" These team members are frustrated that they never received recognition for something they were very proud of – and there's the rub. Managing them requires effective recognition, but it must be appropriate to a significant achievement.

The critic: "Everyone else around here is an idiot." These are team members who must be confronted directly with assignments that force them into developing some humility. Critics always sit on the sidelines and tear ideas apart, but do not want to be in the middle of the fire.

So put them there. Make them vulnerable to criticism. It works wonders.

The lounging lizard: "If I just sit back in the corner and nod my head now and then, they'll think I'm busy and leave me alone – the way I like it." These team members are not helping anyone on your team.

Generally they will sound like they're overworked when pressed about what they're doing. "Oh I'm just sooooooo busy!" But they're not. Give them a high visibility project that forces them to report to the entire team.

Know-it-all (generally in the ranks of executives): "I know the answer to everything, and even if I don't, you need to acknowledge that I do." Perhaps the toughest of them all to deal with.

Bring data. Data is not neutral, but it is impersonal. Keep it impersonal, but raise it to a group. You owe it to your organization.

Know-nothing: "I don't know about that". This person will constantly question your conclusions, but offer nothing which can be criticized. Don't let them off the hook. Ask them: "What do you suggest?" and wait patiently for a response.

The Endless Skeptic: "We'll never be able to do that." Best to remind these individuals of past organizational achievements, including product developments and market successes, along with inventions.

Martyr: "I worked well into the night many times and no one appreciates me." These individuals need to discover for themselves that the amount of time they spend has little to do with their level of accomplishments.

They own the amount of time they spend, not you. But you can model achievement and good time management while maintaining a positive attitude.

Over time, effective managers can bring just about every one of these people around and in some cases, develop them into fine, highly productive employees

Do-Nothing Who Brags About It: "I don't have to do much to get paid the same as you." If you discover this person in your team, have a direct conversation with them and level the beam.

They're not helping your group succeed and they're proud of it. I find the best place for someone like this is outside the teams I lead.

The Incompetent Manager just barely staying above water: "I hope no one finds out I don't really know what I'm doing". If you are in position of leadership over someone like this, you need to help them find a non-managerial job.

Sometimes they end up in a role like this because of the incompetence of someone else; sometimes because they had no real idea what they were getting into; or simply because they don't have the talent to manage. It happens.

Our challenge

Each of these people exists in our organizations. As managers and leaders, we have to deal with them to get the job done. Sometimes these people have been handed to us, sometimes we get thrown into these teams to fix them (I've done it), and sometimes we get these teams through reorganization.

They're here and they're our responsibility. There is no way around it, we need to work with them and it is not easy.

But I have noticed that, over time, effective managers can bring just about every one of these people around and in some cases, develop them into fine, highly productive employees.

It can be done.

About the Author

Dr. Jim Bohn is a keynote speaker and leadership expert. He is the author of The Nuts and Bolts of Leadership: Getting the Job Done. This article first appeared on LinkedIn’s Influencer blog.

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