It is estimated that difficult employees making up just 10% of a department can occupy 90% of a leaders’ time!

The negativity of senior team members has been a common theme in my work with highly educated executives recently. This is a huge impact and drain on the resources of both a team and the leader. Just one misaligned and conflictual team member reduces the productivity of the entire team by up to 30%.

The following is an excerpt from an email I sent to a successful executive struggling with this issue. I have chosen to share it as I feel these issues are relevant to so many leaders out there.

“A number of your senior team members are in the later stages of their careers. They are very focused on promotion as the next logical step despite not currently exhibiting the capacity to take that step, as they are lacking in leadership skills. In terms of life stages and development this reflects a time in life where people begin trying to find the meaning in what they are doing. Have they made a difference to society, achieved something? Their greatest fears being that they have not or will not. Everyone wants to look back on life and feel they led a meaningful life and can feel despairing if this does not feel it has been true for them.

How people define achievement is of course different from one person to another. It sounds like your people are quite focused on the old linear models of career progression and promotion. It may be that this is part of a larger struggle with finding meaning for themselves and by placing the focus on promotion they can avoid the larger picture (in similar ways to how people think that more money will bring them satisfaction but then find it does not and end up in a quest for more and more without thinking about what else might contribute to happiness). It is interesting to note that major life shifts such as children leaving home can contribute to this internal struggle, especially for women, as can approaching retirement when most of your identity is tied up in your work and career.

Sometimes when you are managing people it can be very helpful to have an understanding of where they are at in these developmental stages even if they are not consciously aware of it themselves. It can give you a greater sense of their struggle, rather than seeing the difficulties they pose in the team. There is a clear link between this internal process and the spirals of negativity people can get into. Not receiving a promotion confirms their lack of value to the world. Admitting they need to change can also impact on how they see themselves and their work to date and so they resist this too.

If they were in my team I would probably be thinking about how to explore what is important to them, how to create a willingness to change, and to take the end goal away from being promotion for its own sake. This is of course not as easy as it sounds! But by giving them a chance to start thinking outside of the career pathway and allowing for more conversations around some of these areas they may be enabled to come to their own realizations of the need for change. If effective, then this will lead to a more harmonious team and satisfied, engaged team members.”

If this is an issue you are experiencing in your team and if you are a leader who wants to affect the best possible change for your people then please feel free to contact me to discuss this issue further.

Follow Dr Kate Price on LinkedIn


Dr Kate Price is an Executive Coach and Business Consultant with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She has 20 years’ experience working with individuals, groups and organizations enabling them to overcome difficulties and develop skills in life and leadership. Contact her at [email protected].

Originally published at on October 16, 2016.

Originally published at


  • Dr Kate Price

    Psychologist, Executive Coach and Organizational Development Consultant

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr Kate Price is an Executive Coach and Organizational Development Consultant with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and 20 years of experience in large organizations. She believes that people are what drive careers and companies and that organizations must be invested in the development of culture and individuals to realize their potential, and to stay ahead in the fast changing corporate world. Follow me at: