Craig DiVizzio

How A Challenging Employee Can Make You A Better Leader


Dear Leader, are your difficult folks driving you crazy? Do you have any bad apples that are wearing you out? You remember what they say about bad apples; one bad apple spoils the bunch. What they also say is that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

So, how do you turn your bad apples into lemonade?

If you find yourself tasked with managing a challenging person, you’re not alone; it’s very common. It’s also natural to wish you had a team of top performers, and to hope your bad apple magically improves or decides they would be happier somewhere else.

I get it; high performers are great to work with for a multitude of reasons. They come to work every day demanding their best. They are self-driven and self-motivated. So I completely understand the perspective of wanting to manage only high performers.

Yet, is there a perspective that reveals a value to managing marginal performers?

There is that perspective, and it suggests that high performers typically require you to use a limited number of leadership skills. They are so capable, they don’t force you to learn skills like crisis intervention or conflict management the way marginal performers do. They don’t test your patience the way bad apples do, or your persistence, or ability to stay calm while being attacked and challenged.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not wishing on you a whole team of marginal performers throughout your leadership tenure. I am suggesting you are missing opportunities to become a better, more complete leader if you shy away from helping marginal performers improve.

It’s key to remember, when stressed, that these people not only blatantly reveal your current leadership ability, but also present you with rare growth opportunities. It’s also important to remember that… before you pull your hair out!

When stressed, say to yourself, “OK self, here’s an opportunity to learn and develop myself in ways that will benefit me as a leader. I accept rather than resist that.”

Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Beyond the obvious meaning of that quote, it begs the question of who is working for whom? Are you working for them or are they working for you?

My belief is it’s both. They report to you, yet I believe your responsibility is to provide them with everything they need to be successful. It’s your job to provide the resources, the guidance, the direction, the support, and the information they need to be successful. Then and only then are you justified in holding them accountable for being successful.

This means, with marginal performers, you are working harder. The obvious payoff is that when your folks are successful, you as a leader will be successful. It’s a definite win-win!

So whenever you’re troubled by a challenging employee and you’re ready to say, “I wish I didn’t have this situation in my life,” pause a minute, and choose to adopt the leadership perspective of using every situation you are presented with to learn, grow and become a better leader.

As you do that, you also give that employee an opportunity to learn, grow, and become a better employee and better team member.”

That is how we turn bad apples into lemonade!

Oh, one last question; who hired that bad apple? If it was you, we might need to review your hiring practices – but that’s a topic for another week!

That’s my perspective, what’s yours? Leave us a comment or question below this post and don’t miss the video on this topic on YouTube!

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