The Emerging Leader’s Guide to Handling Difficult People


No matter how long you’ve been in post, the challenges of a tough team member never go away. Maybe it’s one person, or maybe it’s a small group, either way, there will be a potential headache for you.

One thing I’ve noticed among clients is that a difficult team member/s often becomes THE focus for the leader – to the exclusion of all else it seems. That person becomes their Achilles heel and absorbs time and attention in a disproportionate amount compared to the challenges that team member actually presents.

So – here’s one thing you need to know.

One effective way to handle a difficult person, is to strengthen the team around them so that their influence is diluted.

[bctt tweet=”To handle a difficult person, strengthen the team around them so their influence is diluted” username=”@susanjritchie”]

It’s hard to gossip if no-one will listen to you.

It’s impossible to spread rumors if everyone around you already knows the truth.

It’s tough to spread negativity if everyone is highly motivated and positive.

It’s a challenge to bad-mouth others if the others are liked and respected.

It’s uncomfortable attempting to be snide if your colleagues are ready to call you out on your behaviour.

Do you see the idea here?

Instead of fixing the behaviour you don’t want, encourage the ones you do. Strongly, passionately and relentlessly.

[bctt tweet=”Encourage the behaviour you want. Strongly, passionately & relentlessly ” username=”@susanjritchie”]

This adaption of a Skill/Will Matrix will help.




Your highly engaged and motivated supporters and will actively work with you, proactively promoting the culture, mission and vision of your team and organisation.

Willing Followers

These people are happy to do what you need them to.


These like a grumble and moan; they will eventually do what you want but with some effort and opposition.


These are people who will work against you – while they may say they are with you, they will exhibit passive resistance, be a ‘jobsworth’ and try and influence others negatively.

Suggestions for using the tool

1. Take some time to reflect on your team and plot where each of your staff would sit on the matrix.

2. Ask your senior staff to do the same thing – what differences or similarities are there?

3. Use the matrix with all staff and ask them to plot themselves. Ask them to explain why they’ve put themselves where they have.

4. Use the tool to help you develop the culture in your team that you’d like to see – describe what each section of the matrix looks like to you. Be detailed about your expectations.

5. Ask the team to describe what each section of the matrix would look like!

6. How can you ensure that your advocates exert as much influence as possible?

7. How could you encourage new members of staff to become advocates?

8. How can you move your willing followers and resisters towards becoming an advocate?

9. Where is your attention being focused currently?

10. Where might it be more beneficial to focus your attention?

How else could you use this tool?

Are you someone who is looking to make a bold move in your career over the next few months? Maybe you have a  vision for your organisation and you’d like to plan to to take your career to new heights?

Take a look at the Visible Leadership Programme – and then let’s talk.

Do get in touch if you’d like to find out more by emailing me at

one_to_one_coachingI’m Susan Ritchie, an author, leadership and executive coach and trainer. My second book, Strategies for Being Visible: 14 Profile-Raising Ideas for Emerging Female Leaders is now available as a paperback, an audiobook and for the Kindle reader.