When Leading Someone Seems Impossible What To Do When Leadership is Hard

There are two specific scenarios that come to mind when leadership seems impossible. They represent times when we have very little or no influence on someone, whether it’s due to a poor relationship or immaturity. As much as we try as leaders to avoid these situations, sometimes we find ourselves stumped.

Allow me to explore these two scenarios with you and offer ideas about what to do and how to think about leading when it seems impossible.

leadership seems impossible

First Scenario: Poor Relationships

Within the confines of a healthy relationship, leadership is possible. Twitter_logo_blue However, when the relationship is poor, leadership is impossible. Dragging, tugging, pushing, and pulling is what happens when the relationship is poor. That’s not leading. If we even make it to our destination with the person we have a poor relationship with, we arrive beaten, battered, and bruised (to borrow a phrase from my mentor, Pastor Peter Rahme). We arrive traumatized, demoralized, and stressed out.

Second Scenario: Immaturity

When both people are mature, leadership is possible. Twitter_logo_blue But, when one person has the inability to control their emotions or words; if they are unkind or unprofessional; or if they are not coachable, leadership is impossible. The results are trauma, drama, and wasted time and energy.

I wish I could snap my fingers and eliminate these scenarios from our leadership. I wish I had the best relationships, with the highest levels of trust, and the most effective communication with every single person I lead professionally and personally. But realistically, if we are active leaders, we rarely find ourselves void of problem relationships.

So what should we do when leadership is impossible? What can you do when you’ve done everything you know and still, you cannot reach someone or influence them in the slightest way? Let me share with you some thoughts on this important topic.

When Leadership Seems Impossible

  • Let your inner circle be free of these types of relationships. Who is in your inner circle? For me there are usually 10 to 15 people in that group. Here is who I consider part of my inner circle: (1) People I entrust with important matters in my professional and personal life. For me, a handful of people on my leadership team. And, (2) people I spend a lot of time with in my personal or professional life. In my case, my fiancé, immediate family, and a handful of close friends and mentors. For this group, my goal is that my relationships are impeccable and the communication is healthy. If I am to be effective, there must not be relational hiccups within my inner circle. For this to happen, it is my responsibility to maintain relationship disciplines and invest myself into these relationships. I encourage you to do the same. Give generously and consistently by enriching the relationships of your inner circle. The closer the person is to you, the more you must invest. Otherwise, your quality of life (and theirs) and your effectiveness (and theirs), begin to decline.
  • Be attentive to your relationships in your next circle. Who is in your first outer circle? These are the people who are not as close to us, yet are still key members of our lives. We interact with them often enough that they have an impact on us emotionally, professionally, and personally. It is impossible to invest heavily into every relationship, so we must prioritize. This group gets our relational attention, but not as much as our inner circle.
  • Be gracious, merciful, and humble. I don’t need to expound on this point much except to say, it is never a good idea to put the blame for a poor relationship on the other person. Frankly, it is not entirely accurate when we point our finger exclusively at the other person. I prefer to say to myself, “I am not able have a stronger relationship with this person.” And, “I am unable to reach this person given his current maturity level.” Remember, everyone is doing their best. We all need mercy and grace.
  • Are you doing what you should? Many times leaders complain to me about a person in their care. When asked if they are doing the very basics to work on the relationship, they are not. They don’t talk to the person, uplift them, listen to them, or try to understand them. Please don’t label a situation as impossible unless you are doing what you can to build it. It is the same for maturity—each of us will act out if you treat us badly enough. If my boss doesn’t appreciate me, talk to me with respect, and listen to my input, he will not get my best. I am human. As leaders, we must do our part to improve upon and invest in our relationships.
  • Grow yourself. Intentional personal development will elevate your relationship skills as well. It will move you from the problem zone to the healthy zone by understanding more about yourself and others.
  • Don’t think you are a failed leader. This is very important. A lot of times when a certain person in my circle of influence seems unreachable, there is a quiet voice that whispers, “You are not an effective leader after all.” That voice needs to be quieted. I like to keep a list of all my successes (and failures) in leadership and read them periodically. A failure in leadership will not define me. Now, if a majority of your people are not responding to you, you must stop and ask yourself if you should rethink your entire approach to leadership.
  • Know that you cannot lead everyone or in every situation. It’s okay. This is one of the biggest lessons I have learned in leadership. There are situations where my leadership will be ineffective, and there are people I will be more effective with than others. This is normal. Don’t expect to excel all the time in every situation.
  • Don’t let a relationship determine your (or your team’s) destiny. I encourage you to be very aware of situations where leading someone is impossible, and work to resolve and improve the situation. However, be clear that you are called to accomplish a mission. Do not allow a situation to impede your progress, at least not long-term. Do what needs to be done to find a resolution.
  • Don’t spend a lot of resources on them. Many times, leaders spend most of their time on problem people and problem situations. After all, we want to resolve issues. We must not ignore relationships and people who are successful. We must invest in those who will take the team farther if empowered.
  • Don’t ignore or give up on them. The rule here is simple – if they are in your world, don’t give up on them. Sometimes, people do bad things, and leaders pull away from them. They stop investing in them. If you are going to stop investing in people, just let them go. Twitter_logo_blue If you have kept them, then continue to love them and invest in them, and continue to improve the relationship.
  • Don’t pass your problem to others. Deal with the situation. Transferring a person to another team may improve your situation, but it will likely put another leader in trouble. Do the honorable thing and deal with the situation.
  • End things when possible; move away from them when possible.  I say “when possible” because sometimes, for different reasons, we are unable to end a relationship, or we may not want to. But when you can, every time you can, after you’ve gone through the above steps and nothing seems to have changed, have the courage to end the relationship. Ending does not have to be dramatic. It does not have to immediate. Be strategic in ending relationships when you must. Always honor people. And remember that ending a bad relationship, or distancing yourself from a relationship that is corrosive, is usually good for both parties.
  • Should you confront them with “the truth?” The truth is a funny business. The problem is, whose version of the truth will you go by? If you think someone is immature, it could be that they think the same of you. Perhaps they are even right. I like to approach what I see as truth with a bit of humility and healthy pause. First, I don’t like the confrontational approach. I like the conversational  approach. Second, I don’t like, “I will dump everything on you so you can deal with it, as long as it is ‘the truth.'” This is rarely healthy or helpful. So as best as you can, say what needs to be said with as much gentleness and transparency as possible.  Otherwise, you will have drama after drama in your life, and you will make one enemy after another.

Leadership is hard, and sometimes quite discouraging. But keep at it, my friend. Leadership is also an honorable pursuit. Leaders have a chance to touch lives on a consistent basis. Let’s choose to!

Your Friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

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For Further Reading:

How to Lead the Hard to Influence

 

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