How to Lead the 5 Most Difficult People

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As a church leader, I’m confident you love and care about people, but if you have been leading for more than one week, you have encountered a difficult person or two. So how do you lead difficult people?

Recently a wonderful volunteer on the hospitality team told me that someone just left because of the coffee. The unhappy attendee said, “This coffee tastes like dirt.” He said it was weak and insisted that we do something about it. It didn’t matter that it was free. (Free is not an excuse for lousy coffee, but thousands of people seem to like it.) The volunteer offered the Starbucks brand, but the attendee was upset that it wasn’t free.

We all can be difficult or have a bad day, but there are chronic personalities that require intentional effort, maturity, and specific skill to lead.

As leaders we are called to love everyone, Jesus made that clear in John 13:34-35, but that does not mean we are to consistently tolerate behavior that harms the people and mission of the church.

Our coffee story is not a big deal, but it illustrates the picture in a simple and quick way. Difficult is difficult.

In the context of this article, the tension in leadership is how to love and extend grace to people who are difficult and lead them in a way that serves them well, and advances the mission of the church.

I wrote another article on this topic, that takes a more general approach. It’s great complementary content to this post. You can read it here.

How to Lead Difficult People

Notes: 
This does not assume adversarial relationships, but acknowledges the reality of leading difficult people.

This is not a comprehensive treatment of the subject. It is not my intent to place anyone in a box, lower the responsibility of a leader, or reduce the transforming ability of Christ, but only to provide a few helpful insights so leaders can love and lead better.

How to Lead Difficult People #1) The Discontent Person

The discontent personality always wants something more than what is. Whatever it may be, from a certain ministry to a training program, or from the amount of Bible content in a sermon to time with a pastor, it’s just never enough.

An ungrateful or critical spirit typically characterizes the discontent person.

Lead by helping the person to consider and adopt a different perspective. Start by asking them what they are content with (in context with the specific issue) and insist that they articulate precisely what they want.

Lead without promising you or anyone, can or will deliver all they want. You can’t. But the place to begin is establishing realistic expectations and a more grateful disposition.

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Dan Reiland
Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.