Managing someone who is outspoken and opinionated can be challenging for any leader.
This can be particularly hard if you don’t have any specific training on how to manage a team of people or how to deal with conflict.
What often happens is that these people who are willing to speak up get labelled as troublemakers.
These people are often perceived poorly, when in fact, they often bring great value to your organization.
A few years back, when my kids were extremely poor sleepers, my parents used to laugh and tell me that it was karma. You see, it seems that when I was a young child, I was also determined to stay up all night.
My parents would tell me stories about how they would sit at the top of the steps for three hours when I not even 2 because I just would not stay in bed. From their telling of it, I was insistent upon doing what I thought was important. So they would put me back into bed for 3 hours straight, night after night, until I was finally too exhausted to get up again.
That determination never left me.
As I grew into my adult years, I became someone who would speak up to injustices and who would raise concerns about things that were happening within the organization that needed to be addressed.
I would raise red flags that people did not necessarily want to see. I would start conversations that were uncomfortable for everyone involved, but needed to happen.
I didn’t do it to create trouble. I did it because it was the right thing to do.
But I always had the sense that I was perceived as a bit of a troublemaker.
If you’ve found your way into a management or leadership role, perhaps even by accident, you may have realized by now that leading employees who will speak up and challenge your thinking can certainly leave us drenched with sweat. I’ve had to do it when facilitating workshops, so I too know how difficult this can be.
I often see how leaders try to rein in or shut down these types of personalities – simply because they can be so hard to manage. It’s easier to send clear messages all of the time that you’re in charge, decisions are made and that’s that.
And sure, the person who constantly speaks up also often needs to learn that while it’s important to speak their truth, it’s also important to know when it’s time to step back. They need to learn how to pick their battles. I know that these are all lessons that I’ve had to learn over the years.
However, the real leadership skill that will help ensure that these type of people will continue to speak up while also respecting your leadership decisions is to show them that they’ve been heard. Tell them that you have listened and acknowledge that their perspective is valued, and then you can tell them the decision that’s being made. Even if you disagree, or are deciding to not pursue the concerns raised, addressing their concern rather than shutting them down will keep the lines of communication open.
It’s also essential to set appropriate boundaries so that they know when it’s time to move on, without sending a message that their contributions are never welcome. At times, it’s necessary to be firm with these type of personalities – just like my parents had to put me back into my bedroom for three hours! If you’ve made a decision that they’re not respecting, let them know that you’re moving on in your meeting, but will discuss their concerns with them further, 1-on-1, at a later time.
Working from this angle, instead of consistently shutting the person down will help them to learn how to share their opinions in acceptable ways, while also respecting your leadership.
It will also leave the door open to ensure that they don’t become disengaged and start ignoring all of the red flags and unethical behaviours that they otherwise would have flagged.
The benefits of respecting and seeing the value of those “troublemakers” in your organization are immense (and hey – can we find a different word that connotes their true value???).
These are the people who will encourage reflection on issues as soon as they see them, rather than waiting until you’re a year or two down the road and having to waste a ton of time and money on issues that could have been solved much earlier, or prevented altogether.
Know too that this is the approach that I bring to my work. I raise issues that need to be raised for reflection, while also respecting your authority to make the decisions that fit best for your team and your organization. To explore further if my services may be a fit for your organization, book a discovery call.
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