The good, the bad, and the problematic

How to make lemonade out of problematic employees

Photo by Bundo Kim on Unsplash

Throughout my career as a manager, I was privileged to work with some challenging personalities.

They may be very talented but lacking soft skills. They may be:

  • Lousy team players
  • Easily offended
  • Attention starved
  • Overconfident
  • Impulsive

Yet they are talented, essential, and does not mean any harm.


So, what should we do to turn gray into white? After all, our desire is to have a well-functioning team in a healthy atmosphere.

1. Be patient

Human habits are a stubborn material to shape.
Wait, shape? Yes. Shape, balance, adjust. We will not be able to change their character. And guess what? we don’t want to do that. Each character may bring a unique and positive contribution. Our goal is to shed-off the negativity.

2. Understand and define

Without understanding and defining the problem we (you and Steve, the problematic employee) are dealing with, you will just be shooting blind.

First, we need to define Steve’s issue(s). For this, you will need Steve to describe them to you.

Wait, if he is aware of his issues, wouldn’t he already be dealing with them?

The answer is: No. Steve is aware of his issues, the question is how aware he is about the damage they are causing him and his team, and does he have any motivation to improve?

3. Do not feed the problem

It is important to understand that any of the problems you will deal with are a product of negativity. Negativity’s favorite nutrition is… negativity. 
Instead, be extra cool and extra positive during the process.

4. Bi-weekly 1-on-1 sessions

Two weeks is enough time for Steve to arm you with case studies, which will be analyzed during the session. It is also an opportunity for Steve to implement a noticeable improvement.
You can read about these sessions in details in “1-on-1 meetings, done properly.

5. Involve other team-mates, respectfully

After all, the consequences are and will affect the team. They should be shareholders of these efforts. It will also help to reduce Steve’s negativity towards the team, if any, will boost Steve’s trust and openness towards them. Also, the team’s patient and understanding towards Steve will flourish and will serve as a great enabler to the process.
First, ask Steve whether he would mind a teammate to join some of your 1-on-1 meetings from time to time and share his feedback. 
Begin the first 1-on-2 sessions by highlighting Steve’s strengths, his great contribution, and the fact that this process is meant to make his contribution even greater.

6. Don’t be cheap on the shoulder taping

Noticing any sign of improvement or efforts to make an improvement? Shoulder tap Steve! This will:
a. Increase Steve’s awareness of the good that he has done.
b. Feed the negativity beast with its kryptonite: Positivity.


So next time you are considering firing a Steve, let me hint you that beside of the temporary knowledge and human power lost, you will be also missing an opportunity to become a better leader and an opportunity to have an extremely thankful and thus dedicated employee (Steve).

“A man running with a briefcase at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport” by Andy Beales on Unsplash