Dealing with difficult people is a daily challenge for most of us. Over several decades of teaching workshops on this subject, interest and demand for the topic have not dwindled. Whether it’s controlling bosses, recalcitrant employees, or unhappy spouses – people who are hard to please and chronically unhappy aren’t hard to find.
The best place to begin in dealing with cranky people is to be sure you aren’t one of them. Incessant complaining about the challenge of the grouchy personalities in your life can slap that label right on your own chest.
Authentic leadership requires modeling the behavior we expect from others. We can’t walk in authority until we learn humility and respect for others. Many people attempt to exert authority without going through the gate of humility. I know this because I’ve tried to do it. This creates tension, division, and causes a breakdown in communication. Experience is a memorable instructor but it took me years to figure out the importance of not crossing the line between being strong and trying to control others.
My husband and I are both strong personalities. We are both business owners and accustomed to leading in the workplace. In the early years of our marriage, we would both come home and carry “work mode” in the door. In other words, both of us would act like the boss. This did not go well. I didn’t want to back down and neither did he. Since none of us have the power to change someone else, I realized I had to start with my own attitude and behavior. During introspection, I realized I was very prideful. As I began to give up my need to be right and have things my way – commonly known as selfishness – I realized that a struggle for control in a relationship is a recipe for trouble. This applies to any relationship – regardless of whether it’s at work, home, church, or within community organizations.
Imagine passing through a checkpoint at the gate of humility before undertaking dialog with someone you desire to influence. You have to leave your pride at the gate as it’s a destructive weapon that has no place in effective communication. Pride is the direct opposite of humility. Pride is self-centered and indicates you are more focused on your own agenda rather than what’s best for both parties. Manipulation is the result.
It’s tough to accurately discern the motives of anyone other than yourself. In fact, sometimes we react to someone else’s behavior without pausing to think. This can cause us to lose touch with even our own motivations. It seems there are inevitably a few people who know how to push our buttons to trigger a cycle of misunderstanding. There is a way to stop the craziness!
True authority is displayed through your identity. It’s a confidence that springs from being in touch with your core values. It is confident without being cocky. It is a determination to steward your areas of responsibility well while respecting the boundaries of others.
This list provides a simple assessment for identifying whether leadership is springing from a concern for the best interests of others or from a compulsion to be in control.
Authority: Helps us grow
Control: Stifles personal expression
Authority: Uses our strengths
Control: Takes advantage of our weaknesses
Authority: Equips others
Control: Robs others of their autonomy
Authority: Widens horizons
Control: Narrows experiences
Authority: Correction and discipline
Control: Punishment and retribution
Authority: Justice (what is wrong)
Control: Judgment (who is wrong)
Authority: Teaches how to make decisions
Control: Makes decisions on your behalf.
Authority: Establishes boundaries
Control: Trespasses across personal boundaries
Authority: Flows from a spirit of love
Control: Operates from a spirit of fear
Leadership is a huge responsibility. As an authentic leader, you have access to people’s hearts and lives. You can bring encouragement and build others up. Or you can hurt and maim people in unseen ways that bring devastation and pain. Your decision to lead with an attitude of humility and respect will make all the difference.
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone,
the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.
He does not set out to be a leader,
but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”