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Solution Saturday: Dealing with Mr. Irrational

Dear Leadership Freak,

I am needing some advice about how to handle a team member who seems to have some irrational behaviors.

He has been part of our team for four years, had an initially good year and then the issues began. He clashed with a number of middle leaders for resisting some change without collaboration then targeted one of them who resisted the strongest.

I intervened but he objected to my take on the matter and I had to refer it higher. Things settled until the end of last year when he was overlooked for a promotion. He has openly challenged me and another member of the leadership team, who he seems to now target for just about anything minor.

When I address these issues he rejects any criticism or advice about how to do things differently – that is more collaborative and respectful.

He whines about a lack of team approach, but the other members of the team and I believe that he is the only “I” in team. Things are coming to a head as he challenges other staff over minor issues.

We have a wonderful culture of working as a team, collaborating, and respectful relationships.

Should I deal with this as a team issue for support? Take it higher again? Or just lay down the law as to what I expect – I Have done the latter with little result.


Dealing with an irrational team member…

Dear Dealing,

I’m not sure why termination isn’t an option. But, since it isn’t, I’ll offer ideas within the boundaries of keeping “Irrational”.

The simplest option would be to turn this over to HR to begin corrective measures. I’m sure you have reasons for not moving in this direction. However, consult with HR to be sure you stay within organizational and legal guidelines.


Stop doing things that haven’t worked. More of the same will yield more disappointment and frustration.

His vision:

I’m not sure “Irrational’s” behavior is irrational to him. He’s behaving in ways that make sense to him. 

The fact that his first year went well indicates he knows how to perform within your culture.

Identify wants:

Clarify what your team member wants for himself, colleagues, and your organization. You may believe you know what he wants, but it’s worth a conversation or two.

How do behaviors reflect and align with wants?

Corrective conversations:

  1. Explore, don’t correct his vision, as long as it doesn’t collide with organizational mission and vision.
  2. Ask how his behaviors are helping him achieve what he wants for himself and others.
  3. Identify four new behaviors that might serve him better.
  4. Choose one simple behavior that better serves “Irrational” and your organization.
  5. Discuss when and how he will try his new behavior. Include frequency.
  6. Create accountability by setting up weekly follow up meetings.
  7. Ask four questions during follow up:
    • What did you try? Ask for descriptions.
    • How did it work?
    • What did you learn?
    • What will you try next week? (Adapt as you go.)
  8. Have him paint a picture of the next step. What will relationships look like if “Irrational” makes progress?
  9. Set a deadline for improvement. Deadlines will help you include frequent reports, observation, and abundant feedback.
  10. Design consequences if things don’t improve. You might consider giving him assignments that isolate him from others.
  11. Involve “Irrational” in all aspects of corrective action. (You indicated that “laying down the law” didn’t work.)
  12. Follow through with your commitments. Don’t continue to give second chances.

Second chances, after repeated offenses, teach everyone that you don’t really mean what you say.

Include others within your organization:

Since teamwork is an important part of your organization, include others in the process. Transparency and candor will protect you from misunderstandings and false accusations. However, own the problem, even as you share it with your team.

If he won’t listen to one, perhaps he’ll listen to a small group.

Include others in “Irrational’s” rehabilitation. Two or three team members may be useful for guidance and accountability.

Include outsiders:

Don’t reveal confidences, but talk this over with people you respect. Maintain a solution orientation.

  1. Seek outside counsel.
  2. Generate several options to move the ball forward.
  3. Choose an option that makes the most sense and try it.
  4. Set a deadline for improvement.

Five final ideas:

  1. One bad team member pollutes the whole team. “Irrational” is doing more damage than you think.
  2. Others within your organization are waiting for you to take this situation by the horns.
  3. Culture is built by behaviors you tolerate.
  4. Protect yourself by seeking help, being transparent, and keeping the best interest of all parties at the top of your priorities.
  5. Place the interests of your best people ahead of the interests of your worst.

You have my best,


*I relax my 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.


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