Managing the Malcontent – Four Leadership Tips

Malcontent
Part of speech:  adjective
Definition:  dissatisfied
Synonyms:  belly aching, complaining, discontented, disgruntled, unhappy, unsatisfied

Managing a chronically malcontent staff member can be an exhausting experience for a leader. No matter what you do to address the situation, there always seems to be a reason for the staff member to be unhappy, and to prove the truth of the old saying “misery loves company,” the malcontent often loves to spread their discontent to others, creating a whirlpool of negativity for the entire team. The result is the leader ends up spending the majority of his time managing the emotional state of the malcontent in an effort to keep peace within the team.

It’s easy to have all of your emotional and mental energy get sucked into the black hole of managing the malcontent. It’s important for leaders to step back, gain a little perspective, and have a strategy in place for handling these situations. Here’s a few tips that may help:

1. Be consistent in your behavior—It’s important for the malcontent to understand, and for other staff members to see, that you are going to remain consistent in your responses to the situations at hand. Don’t give in to emotional outbursts, frustration, or “fighting fire with fire,” but remain cognizant that you have to set the tone for the type of environment you want within the team and that you set the example of how team members should treat each other. Be respectful, yet firm and consistent, in dealing with the demands or issues raised by the malcontent. It’s necessary to support point #2.

2. Maintain your integrity—Don’t treat the malcontent unfairly by dismissing their concerns or excluding them from opportunities you would provide to other team members. Resist the urge to pander to their needs, walk on eggshells, or make exceptions for the malcontent just to avoid any negative reactions. Treat the malcontent fairly and consistently, just as you would any other staff member. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, the only thing a leader has left is his/her integrity. Don’t lose it by compromising your principles.

3. Don’t take it personallyHurt people tend to hurt people. Those who have emotional and mental wounds from other life experiences can easily take out their pain and suffering on those around them. This is often the case with the office malcontent, who for whatever reason, chooses to express their unhappiness at work. If you have been consistent in your behavior and treated others equitably and ethically, you can feel confident that the issues probably lie with the malcontent, not with you.

4. Recognize when a change is needed—If previous constructive efforts have failed, and the leader has taken all reasonable steps to allow the malcontent to change his/her attitude, the only resolution may be a change of assignment or employment. Usually when it gets to this point in the employer/employee relationship, both parties know that a change is needed, and it often comes as a welcome relief. Certainly that’s not the case in all situations, so leaders need to make sure they’ve been consistent and ethical in their dealings with the employee over time. However, at some point in time, this may be the only solution available.

Each of us are ultimately responsible for our own attitudes and behaviors. Leaders have a responsibility for helping malcontent staff members see where they can improve and provide them the resources and opportunities to do so, but in the end, the employee has to take control of their actions and assume responsibility for the outcomes. If they are willing and able to change, they will. If not, they will manage themselves into other career opportunities.

About Randy Conley

Randy is the Vice President of Client Services & Trust Practice Leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He works with clients around the globe helping them design & deliver training and consulting solutions that build trust in the workplace and oversees Blanchard's client delivery operations. He has been named a Top 100 Thought Leader in Trustworthy Business Behavior by Trust Across America. Randy holds a Masters Degree in Executive Leadership from the University of San Diego and enjoys spending time with his family, bike riding, and playing golf. You can follow Randy on Twitter @RandyConley where he shares thoughts on leadership and trust.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Fairness, Integrity, Morale, Personality. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Managing the Malcontent – Four Leadership Tips

  1. Great post Randy. My experience is that a cancer on team spreads quickly. I wouldn’t hesitate to move to step 4 if problem doesn’t remediate itself quickly.

  2. Wendy Mason says:

    Great post and very useful advice on a difficult area. What I would add is the importance of acting quickly when you begin to sense this is an issue. It is important to listen, to attempt to establish the facts for any particular grievance and then intervene. The temptation can be to let this run, hoping that things will get better. What usually happens then is the the discontent just festers and spreads as you suggest.

    • Randy Conley says:

      Great advice Wendy! Acting quickly will help everyone involved and it’s important for leaders to do their due diligence in exploring all the facets of the situation.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Randy

  3. Beth Gifford says:

    Great article and practical help! I liked it so well that I forwarded to several people leaders with whom I work.

  4. Melisa says:

    Essential tips for business leaders who are in executive position specially those who have power to hire and fire people out of the company.

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