At some point in your career, you’re going to find yourself leading a team, department, division, or organization where you’re working with an employee who irritates you. Sometimes you know why. Often you don’t.

When analyzing that negative gut reaction to yourself, you may label that person “slick,” “arrogant,” “self-righteous,” “lazy,” “pretentious,” “sniveling,” “aggressive,” “presumptuous,” “dorky,” “helpless,” “weird,” “intimidating” (and I can think of worse labels). If you were building a court case for a jury, you might not be able to prove the label. But you feel the negative tug at your gut all the same.

So how do you lead, motivate, and generally supervise someone that you have such a strong dislike for?

How to Lead People You Don’t Like: 4 Suggestions

Look to Procedures, Policies, and Criteria to Override Feelings

“Seat of the pants” supervision can lead you astray. It feels comfortable to be accommodating to those you like, and feel uncomfortable to trust those you dislike. Yet as a leader, you know you should treat everyone equally—or at least provide them with equal opportunities. When you don’t, you’ll receive complaints about favoritism concerning rewards, recognition, and choice assignments.

When favored employees ask for special accommodations, and there’s not a policy in place to address their situation or issue, you tend to respond positively and grant favors. Not so, with those you dislike.

Make it your goal to set up policies, procedures, and criteria to address common issues and situations. Then live with them. Make exceptional situations truly rare.


Assess Personality Alignment or Mismatches

Often a dislike of someone comes down to simply a personality clash. You’re a driver, “get-it-down” type leading an analytical, reflector personality. Or, you’re a relater trying to work with a melancholy person, who shudders every time you mention hosting a client event. Reframing your dislike as a personality mismatch goes a long way in helping you understand the other person’s perspective—and possibly even to reassign roles and tasks because of that understanding.


Be Objective About Outcomes

Make sure each project has measurable goals and completion metrics. Agree to them. Reward according to them. Acknowledge the fact that you’re going to be more apt to praise and reward work done by those you like. By setting—and publicizing—objective standards and criteria, you’re assuring yourself that you actually have objective standards by which to measure. Then focus on the deliverables rather than the person.


Consider the Baggage––Yours and Theirs

Sometimes the negative feeling can be completely illogical: The dislike may stem from things totally outside work. The person may have a demeanor like your older sister whom you resent or an ex-spouse that you detest.

You may have different religious backgrounds or world views that create barriers. You may decide that the conflict arises because your work ethic comes from two different eras or different generations.

If you decide that any of this baggage contributes to your negative vibes about the individual, it’s time to check your bags––intentionally. Just as you check bags before boarding for a flight, realize that the goal is to get to a specific destination.  

Make up your mind to check those emotions to get the job done. Your goal: project completion, team unity, profitability—not necessarily friendship.


As with mentoring students, leading a movement, or governing a nation, make your leadership bigger than any one person or emotion.


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