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Dealing with Difficult People

leader I know has to contend with challenging personalities. It is an
area I have had particularly good success with. Not because I have a
soft spot in my heart, but because I have framework that helps me know
how much to invest and lays out a set of viable options.

The stronger a leader you are, the more you will
have detractors—those who think you are on the wrong track and take up
forces against you. They can be dealt with effectively. This includes
those who say or demonstrate through their behavior:
�    I don’t care about you, your program, or what you
�    Nothing works in this awful place. Every initiative
including yours is doomed to fail.
�    I don’t like you or what you stand for, and I will
take you down when I get the chance.

First, remember what you are doing. Your aim is
success, not personal warfare. If you degenerate into personal warfare,
you and your program will suffer as a consequence.

If you find yourself drawn in emotionally, you
need to take care of yourself
so you can help those around you. If you are overtaken with animosity
in response, you have become ensnared in an emotional diversion and are
no longer leading.

To decide how important it is to engage the person
who is treating you with indifference, cynicism, or animosity, use my
RISK/ROI matrix. Risk
represents the possibility that this person will turn against you. Low
risk means that it is unlikely he or she will attempt to inflict
damage. High risk means they will likely come after you or your program.

represents the potential value or destruction this person can generate.
Low ROI means that if you win his or her support, the resulting
positive impact is minimal. Likewise, if you lose their support, the
damage they inflict is negligible. High ROI means that you could win
big if you garner buy-in, or lose big if you suffer its loss. 
Let’s look at each of the quadrants in my matrix:

RISK/ROI matrixQuadrant 1:
Low risk, Low

There is little chance these folks pose a threat. If you win them and
their support, the benefit is small. Leave them alone.

Quadrant 2: Low risk, High ROI   

These people are not likely to attack, and yet represent significant
rewards or damage. Engage them. Invest in winning them over. Failing
that, try to build a relationship with them. Even without their full
support, there is a good deal to be gained by having their trust.

Quadrant 3: High risk, Low ROI 

These are prone to aggressively come after you or your program, yet
there is little to be gained or lost from winning or losing their
support. Devote your efforts to other priorities.

Quadrant 4: High risk, High ROI   
Here you have people who are likely to try to inflict damage on your
program but can provide significant returns if they are converted. Even
if you only partially win them over (perhaps they support one part of
your program, but not another), they can bring real benefits. They are
a priority. Do what you can to build a working relationship. Look for
special or unique opportunities to align your objectives and their

It seems intuitive, but it is not how most leaders
treat their stakeholders. They tend to invest worry, time, and energy
in those that are high risk, rather than where it will pay off: among
the high ROI crowd.

Next week… Special
advice for working with apathetics and cynics…