Reyer: Troublesome worker is chance to work on leadership

  • Article by: LIZ REYER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • March 9, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Q: I manage a team and have one employee who really intimidates me. She resists direction and makes me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. How can I manage this relationship so that I become the one who’s in charge?

A: It’s time for you to define the tone of your interactions and step up as the leader of your team.

The inner game

At its core, this situation has less to do with your employee’s behavior and more to do with your response. As a first step, then, prepare to explore the reasons she intimidates you, which may be somewhat challenging to think about. Breathe deeply, become centered, and let go of anxiety related to this working relationship.

The concept that she makes you feel a certain way is telling. This tells me that you have, in fact, ceded the power to her. Consider whether this is a typical pattern for you. Odds are that a similar dynamic has played out for you at other times; are there certain circumstances or types of people that trigger this behavior? Take a look at underlying insecurities or fears, but be kind to yourself. This isn’t something to beat yourself up over; think of it as a new way to grow and develop.

Now, get specific about the behaviors that you’re observing. Exactly how does she “resist direction”? Is she actively refusing or passively avoiding? Write down a description, perhaps thinking about it as though you’re setting up a movie scene. Notice everything — words, actions, tone, body language — both for her and for yourself.

Set your goal for this situation so that you can envision the working relationship you’d like to have. From oppositional to collegial? From uncooperative to respectful?

The outer game

The key set of behavior to focus on is your own. Do you act like you know what you’re doing? Do you lead? If not, you’ll be a target for people who want to pursue their own agendas. Set leadership goals for yourself. You may be able to inspire cooperation; however, you’ll need to be perceived as a person whose vision warrants buy-in.

So, know what you bring, be able to express it, and be clear in sharing it. Also be clear about your expectations for her performance, coming to common ground about the goals. If she disagrees with those, work through it, including clarification of those goals with your boss if needed.

This may be a situation in which you want to get extra help. Your firm may have internal coaches or training options. If not, you may want to find a coach or mentor, or turn to your boss for advice and support.

Know your endgame. What happens if you can’t improve this situation? If you can’t take it, you may end up leaving, which reinforces possible bad behavior on your employee’s part. Another option is to make sure that you’ve communicated your expectations and the consequences for not meeting them.

The last word

Employees who don’t work with you can make your life miserable — but be sure you’re sending a message that you’re a manager who deserves respect.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at

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