Managing a Difficult Leader by Doing the Opposite

This article is an excerpt from my sacred memoir “Not Everyone Who Wanders is Lost” at

Some leaders really rattle my cage. And when I get hot under the collar I sometimes react rather than respond in ways that can escalate a problem situation. On observing my reaction to one difficult leader one friend advised me, “Don’t poke the bear“.

This senior executive has a huge organization-busting ego, its her way or the highway, she always needs to be right, and becomes a drill sergeant and bully when people stand in her way. My ineffectual response in this instance was to joust with her and push back. I should have known better than to let her hit my hot button. The result was not quite World War 3 but it seemed to come close at times. After I left the organization (along with three other employees who protested her style of leadership), I reflected,

Surely there had to be a better way to manage such relationships?

I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza comes to the realization that nothing he does in his life works out for him. All his decisions seem to be the wrong ones. So he comes up with the stunt that from now on he will “Do the opposite”. There is often wisdom in comedy. So when I feel the ego cramping my style by suggesting mindless responses like “Fight back“, I ask myself, “How can I demonstrate kindness towards this person?” or better still, “How can this person be my teacher not my nemesis?”

I must add one note. Just because a person is behaving like a jerk does not mean that I have to wave the white flag in dealing with the conflict. Surrender often is a way of being codependent or reinforcing the bad behavior. We have to also stand on principle and observe best practices in conflict resolution.

The key to a successful resolution is to regard the conflicted situation as a problem to be solved rather than a battle to be fought. After we take time out and cool down we can choose wise mediation, agree on the overall strategy that needs to be realized, gain insight to why the person responds from fear and not courage, and consider what is best for the organization and the customers. All of these practices are a way of “doing the opposite”. None of them are fight or flight. All of them start with regulating our own responses and not trying to change the “problem” leader.

Finally, do the opposite when your behavior exacerbates the situation.


How have you managed difficult behaviors in a leader?

About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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