Cindy and I are getting together to talk about our upcoming strategy session. She seems distracted and visibly stressed, so I ask her how things are going.

She says that one of her managers is driving her crazy.

I ask her what’s wrong. She goes into a litany of issues with his performance, including not getting his work done on time and not using her suggestions for how to be more effective. She finally explains, “I really have a hard time working with him.”

When I offer a few suggestions, she becomes more agitated and determined to convince me she has every good reason to feel this way.

I pause and reflect on this over time. I’ve certainly been in her shoes.

I realize she’s used to being upset about him and doesn’t believe anyone can help her solve it.

What she wants is for him to be different so she can feel differently.

Yet the bigger problem beyond how she feels about this manager is how completely distracted she is by her feelings about him. The next time I see her, I ask her if her good performers get much of her attention.

She looks at me quizzically, wondering why I would ask.

I tell her that it seems like she might have a tendency to spend a whole lot more time worrying about him than the ones doing their work, when they may need her time as well.

If you find yourself overly distracted by one or two employees that you’re having problems with, following are a few suggestions to help shift your perspective:

1. Take responsibility. Our relationships with each of our employees are completely our responsibility. Whether the relationship is going easily or creates challenges are all well within leadership capabilities. Consider what you have done to contribute to the situation and consider any actions you might take to improve it.

2. Manage your own emotional triggers. Most leaders report that when employees don’t perform well, they unwittingly take it personally. A good question to ask yourself is: what do I take this to mean?

Commonly, I’ve heard answers such as:

I take it to mean they don’t care about me or their work.

I take it to mean that if I was a better mentor, they would be performing better.

I take it to mean our department is generally not functioning well.

Do any of these sound familiar?

Many times, none of these things are true and upon examination, it becomes clear that the situation has nothing to do with you.

3. Collaborate with challenging employees about how to approach the situation differently. It’s important that your interest in the situation be to support the employee in being more successful.

If you haven’t been successful so far, invite the person to assist you in better supporting them. Be aware when you take their problems on as your own. Let them help solve their own issues by being a sounding board for them.

Remember that if they don’t make successful changes right away, it doesn’t mean they won’t come upon a better answer for themselves eventually. While it’s important to be fact-based about performance requirements, it’s just as important to bring a willing heart to helping them do better.

If you know you’re spending too much time dealing with performance problems compared to more value added activities, click here to download this introduction to basic and advanced practices of performance management.

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