When You Have to Lead People You Don’t Like

Are you holding someone back because of your own biases?

It’s happened to you, as it happens to all of us at some point. You have an employee (or more) that you manage who is challenging you. When you’re honest with yourself, you just don’t like them and this bothers you. They are “average” at their work yet you sense that they have the potential to be even better.

If you look closely at how your dislike for this person affects how you interact with them, you notice that you avoid having the kind of conversations you need to have, and you don’t give them the feedback and encouragement you give to others.

Perhaps they deserve more from you.

In other words you just can’t see your way through to thinking clearly about the potential they might have to be better at what they do because you don’t like them. If you changed your thinking about them, what might happen for the better?

This requires you to rethink how you view this person, and it takes work on yourself. This is hard work because it may surface some pretty unpleasant personal beliefs you have.

You can start here:

1.  Set aside time to reflect on your judgments. Turn the mirror back to yourself and ask:

  • What biases or judgments do I cling to about this person?
  • What stories do I tell myself that cause me to cling to those biases or judgments?
  • How might my personal beliefs be affecting his or her ability to perform at their best?
  • What potential am I willing to see in this person? 

You might find it helpful to write down your responses to these questions, and to reflect on them again later.

2. Consider the actions you might want to take now. What value might there be in changing your behaviors toward them? Assuming you can see that you may be complicit in the average performance of this person you don’t like, what do you want to do about it? Remember, you are working on yourself, not them. Maybe you are questioning your beliefs now, and thinking that there is some new way you can show up with this person. What new behaviors do you need to take on?

3. Be patient. Be patient with yourself and your new actions toward the other person. You may notice the old feelings of dislike coming up. When that happens, return to your new ways of thinking about this person and the potential he or she has.

Your personal beliefs, biases and judgments about others can get in the way of your ability to engage, motivate, and lead them to be at their best. When you recognize and change your thoughts about those you don’t like, their hidden potential can be unleashed.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive consulting firm.

(Image via Goodluz/