Motivating a Difficult Employee

Motivating a Difficult Employee

Thanks for being here!

I was talking recently with a coaching client last week and Marie’s dealing with a fairly common but frustrating situation.

Marie manages a team member who is 15 years older than she is.

Overall, the team member does great work.

But the team member occasionally forgets that Marie is the leader.

For example, Marie was explaining how a new policy needed to be implemented.

The team member jokingly said, “That’s a good policy, but you know we aren’t actually going to do it.”

Does this sound familiar to you?

I’ve been there, too. And it’s not a particularly fun spot to be.

When I was 27, I was leading a team of about 30 people – and the majority of the team members were 20-30 years older than me.

It was incredibly difficult – and intimidating! – to try to get people who could be your parents to listen to you.

Overtime, I have learned two things that have helped me immensely when leading people.


The first is more a philosophical approach, but don’t glaze over on me here.

Treat everyone you are communicating with as though they are an expert.

This doesn’t mean that they know everything.

But everyone knows SOMETHING that they can bring to the table.

When you start to approach your team as people who can contribute – rather than being intimidated by their age or experience – everyone will start to feel like there are valued as a person.

And, that their experience is contributing to the overall benefit of your team, rather than someone who is working *FOR* you.

I know this is subtle, but it works.

I have successfully used this philosophy to approach team members who are older than me and younger than me.

And with literally thousands of college students.

And with the little people who surround me every day.

It works.

I have always thought the Beatles’ song “Come Together” – which I will not sing for you! – is a great embodiment of this philosophy as well.

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Ok. The second key ingredient here: explain why things matter!

Often times as leaders, especially when we are trying to establish credibility with our team, we may direct people to do things…but not explain why we are asking.

This can be incredibly frustrating to your team, especially if you are asking them to do something that is radically different than what they have been doing.

Or you’re asking them to add what seems like a meaningless task to their job.

I once had to ask my team to come in for 8-hours of unpaid, mandatory training on a Saturday. There were s-e-v-e-r-a-l issues at play here – but a lot of it came down to how things were communicated.

I couldn’t change the fact that we had to do the training – that decision was above my proverbial pay grade (though believe me, I certainly tried!).

In the end, a lot of the situation came down to messaging.

Yes, we had to do the training.

Yes, I didn’t want to be there either.

But, we had to do the training. Our company couldn’t afford to pay everyone – and if we DIDN’T do the training, we were risking our ability to function legally as an organization.

It would have been easy NOT to share that information.

Transparency is HARD.

But again, going back to the philosophy that we talked about: if you treat all your team members like the intelligent experts they are, then they can handle knowing that these are the stakes.

And right now, the stakes seem higher than ever.


So…start to think about your leadership philosophy.

How have you been operating?

Have you been cultivating a team? Or managing a group of people?

How can you start to change your approach?

And secondly, are you being transparent about WHY you are making the decisions you are making?

Is there a way that you can bring not your employees, but your team of experienced experts to the table to face your challenges?


The reality is that not everyone is going to suddenly start showing up to work, whistling a happy tune like they do in movies.

That’s just life.

However, being more transparent with your team will increase the likelihood that they will show up to help you.

And speaking of teams, we are working on building a community of professionals right now who want to stop being managers and start being leaders.

If you are interested, click on the link at the bottom of the page to join our community mailing list.

We’ll send you a message each week with practical, research-based information that you can start using at work right away.

We know your time is valuable – and we want to give you the resources to make an immediate impact.

Remember, my friends, that times are weird.

Change is hard.

Try your best.

You are stronger, and braver, and capable of so much more than you realize. Don’t forget it.

Keep rocking and I look forward to connecting with you online soon!



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