Difficult partners are tough work. As a professional services firm leader or senior manager, at some stage you are going to be faced with the unenviable task of dealing with one or more. As I am sure you will confirm, they can be gnarly, hard nuts to handle.
‘Difficult’ comes in various shapes and forms. They can be brilliant, top fee earners who are loved by their clients but who create trouble for everyone else, or they may be disgruntled, serial under-performers. These distinctions don’t really matter for the purposes of this article – we can probably all recognise ‘difficult’ when we see and experience it. Invariably, as a leader you are going to come under some form of pressure in relation to them. So, it is important you know how to respond and that you actually tackle and not avoid the challenge.
It is tempting, even sub-consciously, to distance yourself from such a partner. Or to go soft on them and bow to their pressure in the mistaken belief this will ‘get it out of the way’. This is mainly because most of us don’t relish conflict. These unfortunately are very common courses followed by even the best leaders. My advice, don’t follow either.
If you bow to difficult partners you are effectively giving in to the play-ground bully – the issue may subside for a while when he/she realises they have their way, but it will crop up again and bite you. Also, don’t try to get rid of it by simply ignoring it. You are then guilty yourself of passive-defensive behaviour which is a clear sign of insecurity. Difficult partners have a keen nose for this insecurity and feed on it. It will only be a matter of time before something else comes up. You will then be on the run with a track record of having ducked these challenging issue.
There are some real costs involved in not addressing issues around difficult partners:
- as leader, your own confidence will start to wane. Others may even start to lose respect for you;