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7 Mindset Shifts You Must Make to Lead Difficult People

People who practice mindful meditation maintain that it changes their mindset and that change in how they think leads to different, improved behaviors.

When we change our mindsets that changes how we act in response to the events that occur around us. How we act changes the outcomes. To be able to best manage the mavericks, cynics, divas, and other difficult people and situations, we have to first change our frames of reference in how we think about them.

Here are 7 mindset shifts you need to make so you can lead difficult people:

  1. Appreciate the diversity of every person

First, it is important to recognize that we all have similarities that have great value. Communication could not happen at all without that! The secret is to understand that the diversity that always exists produces some “noise” in our communications.

This noise can cause confusion or, worse, lead to mistaken assumptions that lead to anger. This is important! Exceptional leaders know that when encountering some behavior or action that appears unacceptable, their first thought should be to wonder what they don’t understand about the person and the communication process.

  1. Start with the belief that everyone has good intentions

It is natural to have a strong reaction to bad news or the perception that someone is not driven in the same way that you are. In coaching these leaders to work toward a more constructive response, I urged them to find the mindset that drove them to this reaction. The most common answer these leaders came up with was “when things went wrong, my initial gut reaction was that troublesome people were trying to cause me or the organization harm” and it was that belief that made them feel such negative emotions. When they articulated this feeling it became apparent that this was actually never true in any of the situations they faced.

The exceptional leader believes that when someone is causing problems it is not the person’s intention to cause problems. Almost certainly the troublesome person is trying to do his or her best to further the overall good of the initiative. The calm leader has the mindset that when trouble arises, it is not of evil intent, it is because something is missing. This change in mindset does not mean we ignore bad behaviors or bad results. What it does mean is that when confronted with these situations we immediately have a more focused, constructive response.

  1. Accept reality, but do not let reality define you

Exceptional leaders do push to set a high bar, and to define what that high bar should be. This takes an important mindset, which is summed up in the threefold relentless pursuit of seeing reality, accepting reality, and, based on this, dealing with reality in a way that sets a high standard of achievement.

Explore the details within your domain. Ensure that you have data that is accurate, useful, and used. Develop the ability to focus on the most important elements. For example, be able to rise above the daily noise of problems and excuses. Be able to see patterns and trends and understand when the indicators call for clear action. Exceptional leadership looks at these details but does not accept the notion that working harder will fix everything. Instead, exceptional leaders study the details for more complete understanding and are thus prepared for determining the next step.

  1. Set the high bar for excellence that people desire

In conducting organization assessments I have the benefit of talking to all layers of large and small organizations, from CEOs to individual contributors. When I ask about disappointments, the most common answer I hear is “We didn’t take the time to do the job with quality.” That was the case with most organizations, but there were organizations that were exceptions.

In those exceptional organizations, disappointment around quality was not in anyone’s answer. Not one person! Because I typically heard it so often, I knew there was something different in those organizations.

In these organizations, the leaders are driving toward a high bar of excellence. Here are actual quotes from leadership in these organizations that demonstrate a different way of thinking.

  • “The best and fastest way to deliver a high-quality product to our customers is to put a high-quality product into testing. Give me your plan to achieve that.”
  • “Your current schedule plan is meaningless without a plan for quality. I need to see quality metrics.”
  • “I expect everyone in this organization to become masters of their crafts.”
  • “Get Hank and his teammates training in this new technology area. We are seeing indicators of quality issues we have to remedy now.”

This is indeed a different mindset. These leaders understand that excellence is a critical business enabler. They also know that in spite of any whining that may occur initially, in the end people are proud of producing great products and great results.

  1. Understand the value of gelled teams

Your role is not to get things done, although you are absolutely accountable when things don’t get done. Your role is actually not to get things done through others either, although that is how most leaders start. The real role of exceptional leadership is to create a culture where people do extraordinary things! One of the best ways to do this is to understand the power of gelled teams.

When there are people problems in the organization, many leaders understand that it is their responsibility to ensure that the trouble is fixed. However, many miss the point that they do not have to do it themselves.

The exceptional leader is always looking for ways to create teams of people in which the team can figure out how to address the trouble without management involvement. As you grow as a leader, the troubles you and your organization encounter will not diminish, but as your skills grow at creating the desired culture, the number of times you must personally get involved will greatly diminish.

  1. Treat trouble as information-rich data

If there is trouble occurring in any of the things you lead, it is important information—not just about the actual incident or the actual trouble, it also contains information on the process, the people involved, the culture you are creating through your leadership, and you.

The best reaction to the trouble is not to ignore it. Nor is it the victim response of whining. The ideal response is to treat the trouble as a rich source of information that can help the organization excel.

  1. Own your leadership power

The final key to the exceptional leadership power of being able to transform the troublesome to the tremendous is to take ownership of your leadership power. The meaning of this is simply that you understand and own all the keys of the mindset of leading the unleadable. It means that when you have setbacks in making those mindsets your first response (and there will be setbacks), you don’t let the setback become a norm; you forgive yourself and get back on track. It means that you don’t let the trouble you have to deal with define your response; you take ownership of your response. You take ownership of your leadership process and the results.

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Alan Willett

ALAN WILLETT is president of Oxseeker, a leadership development and organizational culture change consultancy whose clients include Oracle, Microsoft, NASA, Intuit, and others.

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