How To Deal with Difficult Staff: Lean on Those with Experience

How can more experienced leaders help you in dealing with difficult situations?


Adam Gould, the U.S. executive director and co-founder of eduKenya, discusses how to deal with difficult staff using a values-based leadership approach. As a young leader, Adam explains how important it is to lean on those with more experience, particularly when managing diverse teams. 

In this video, Adam shares how social pressures and non-transparency among some of the organization’s staff members led to employees feeling scared to open share with fellow employees and leadership.

Watch this video and learn how to rely on other people to resolve difficult situations.

Back in 2011, I got a call from one of our management staff, which was completely out of the blue, and she said, "We're all on strike."

What was happening in the country at the time was, at the government level, they weren't paying teachers. They weren't paying doctors and nurses and things like that. So in the public sector, people were going on strike. Comparatively, our teachers were paid very well, and it was a pretty good working situation. I was shocked that our teachers were on strike.

They refused to talk to our Kenya Director and our Kenya Administrative Director. They would only talk to me.

So I decided to video chat with our whole staff. So I asked them what the problem was, and I had them go around to each teacher and explain what the problem was. I could tell that there was something going on. There was some issue there that the teachers weren't actually fully saying what they were thinking.

So I sat down with the leadership on our side and said, "I don't know what to do." So I went and I met with our management team, being those removed from the project, kind of the Administrative Director, the Executive Director, and then the pastor whose church we partnered with.

So I met with them and basically just went and said, "We support whatever you decide," and ask them, "Okay, what are the issues? So what are we going to do?" That was a really important step for us, a really hard step because I was sitting there thinking we might make a decision and there might not be an eduKenya at the end of this.

What we found out was that our project manager and the person in charge of our skill training program were pressuring everyone into going on strike, and they said that they would fire them if they didn't go on strike.

What ended up happening was we let go of the project manager. We let go of the person in charge of skill training. We let go of the person in charge of our home based care program, and we let go of the principal of the school.

It was a painful process for me because I really valued these people. At the same time, we gave them every opportunity to come back into the fold, if you will, and they refused. We explained to the teachers, though, that we would renew every single contract for each teacher.

I was nervous about what was going to happen next. It was amazing going back three months later. The culture of the school had changed. There was less fear. There was more openness. People were willing to share more, and we realized that there was an element within our staff that was really holding people back and holding people down.

So in dealing with this difficult situation, number one, I had to lean on other people, and that's the first thing you have to do. You have to lean on other people sometimes, people with more experience. Secondly, you have to understand the situation. You have to understand the dynamics and the issues at hand.

Then thirdly, you have to reassert authority for people in the different positions that hold authority. Sometimes when people are being stepped over, you have to make sure that the people that are reporting to them understand that those people are in charge.

Adam gould

Adam Gould

Adam Gould is the U.S. executive director and co-founder of eduKenya, a Christian nonprofit organization that provides transformational opportunities to the children and families of the Mathare Slum in Nairobi, Kenya, using a self-sus...

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