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How to Handle Difficult Situations as a Leader

What are the most challenging situations you have faced as a leader? The most popular answers might include handling conflicts, avoiding favouritism, being a balanced leader, avoiding discrimination and prejudice, or dealing with complaints about any of the former, or even handling low-performing staff. How do you approach or tackle these awkward situations as a leader?

Dealing with difficult situations

Sometimes, it feels almost impossible to escape being held hostage by low-performing individuals. Many managers end up spending a disproportionate amount of time dealing with these employees. But there are several things you can do to keep a handle on the situation and ensure you don’t let your difficult employees dictate what you do:

  • Listen - Just because an employee is difficult and gives you a hard time doesn’t mean we should stop listening and disregard what they say. They can be irritating, but this isn’t the time to switch off. You need to become more attentive to see where the opportunities lie to improve the situation, including understanding where the employee is coming from.
  • Give clear feedback - Don’t complain about the poor employees without addressing the issues. Give your employees clear, constructive feedback on what they are doing wrong and how they can improve. You might find they do just that.
  • Documentation - Whenever there are problems with an employee, always write down the key points in a record of their behaviour. When it comes to letting that employee go, you’ll have enough justification and cause to minimise the risk of any disputes.
  • Be consistent - Make sure it’s one rule for everyone, always. Don’t become more lenient with certain employees or when you feel tired. This can lead to employees choosing not to follow regulations.
  • Be courageous - Firing someone is difficult. But, when you have just cause, have given the employee plenty of chances to improve, and their stay is having a negative effect on your department, it’s time to pull the plug. The best managers do the toughest things with tact.

What happens when leaders fail?

Many leaders have slipped up from time to time. It doesn’t mean they’re destined to be a poor manager forever, but a look at where the problems were and how you can avoid repeating them is useful. It will help you become a better leader. Some common issues include:

  • Expecting employees to come to you.
  • Setting the wrong tone - One study suggests that a positive work environment can improve financial results by almost 30%.
  • Being, or acting like you’re too busy.
  • Overemphasizing personal accountability.

Leadership is one of the most rewarding career options, but still one of the most difficult. Even with a natural talent for leadership, there are skills that may not come naturally and management techniques you need to learn and enforce if you want to be a more effective leader for your department.

Develop leadership skills for yourself and your team by enrolling for the Introduction to Management course and the Leadership,Team Skills & Collaboration course.


At Civil Service College, we offer top-class leadership and management courses, so you can be confident in your ability to lead your team to success. For more information, and to book, call us on 020 8069 9000


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