John Maxwell on Leadership

How Would You Work With A Difficult Leader Who Doesn’t Like You?


From Good Leaders Ask Great Questions

It’s difficult to work with someone you think doesn’t like you, especially when it’s your leader. Most people don’t respond to it well. They often do one of the following:

  • Hide from the person: Many people go into avoidance mode. The good news is that there isn’t direct conflict. The bad news is that when we spend our energy hiding, we lose momentum.
  • Hinder the person: Another common response is to become passive-aggressive. We don’t do anything directly destructive. We just make sure not to be very cooperative. The problem with this is it hurts the team and causes us to be unfocused.
  • Harm the person: The worst of all responses is to try to punish or harm the person who doesn’t like us. That causes us to lose integrity.

Instead you need to take the high road. You cannot control your leader’s response to you. He or she may never love working with you. But you can do everything in your power to make sure that you are not the cause of the problem. You do that by…

Processing Your Emotions

Over time, if your negative emotions are left unchecked and allowed to brew, they will overflow into every area of your working – and maybe also your private – life. These negative emotions can influence our decision making, taint how we view relationships, and affect how we lead our people. For that reason we need to feel our emotions regularly. We must acknowledge how we feel, work through any hurt feelings, and move on. Otherwise we’re likely to hold a grudge.

Looking for Common Ground

Everyone sees the world from his or her own unique perspective. Terry Felber, author of Am I Making Myself Clear? Wrote, “If you can learn to pinpoint how those around you experience the world, and really try to experience the same world they do, you’ll be amazed at how effective your communication will become.”

Whenever and wherever possible, look for points of agreement with your leader. And when you find them, focus on those things you have in common rather than the differences that set you apart. If you are united in a common goal, start there.

Being Consistently Pleasant

Noted English hostess Lady Dorothy Nevill observed, “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” That means being consistently pleasant all the time.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Kill them with kindness”? People often soften if you stay constant when they are not – when you are sincere, kind, helpful and pleasant despite their choices and behavior. And remember, as poet Kahlil Gibran asserted, “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.”

Solving Problems

One of the best ways to endear yourself to a leader is to be a good problem solver. It’s easy to see and point out problems. It’s much more difficult – and valuable – to offer and implement solutions. Adding value to others always works to your advantage. If you increase your value by becoming good at offering and implementing solutions, it will make your boss’s job easier, and his or her attitude toward you might soften.

Going the Extra Mile

Film director William C. de Mille quipped, “I have always admired the ability to bite off more than one can chew, and then chew it.” If you want to please people, go above and beyond expectations. Most of the differences between average people and top people can be explained in three words: “and then some.” If you do your job and then some, people will be drawn to you, maybe even your boss.

Sometimes people dislike another person without good reasons. That could be the case with you and your leader. All you can do is try to connect on common ground and be a great employee. It’s difficult to dislike someone who consistently treats people with kindness, does the job well, and goes above and beyond what is expected. If you do all those things and your leader still doesn’t like you, you can take comfort in knowing that you are probably not the cause of the problem.


The above question and answer are from my new book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. Reading it is like sitting in on a Q&A session with me, where I try to provide practical, real-life answers to the questions that leaders like you are asking. If you’re a leader looking for a growth resource, I believe this book will give you what you need to become a better, more effective leader.

Good Leaders Ask Great Questions is available at a variety of booksellers, as well as here at JohnMaxwell.com.


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