problem staff

Do you have problem staff?

I was in a meeting on Monday with a whole bunch of successful entrepreneurs. These, like any entrepreneurs, even successful ones have their ups and downs and a fellow entrepreneur who had recently taken on an apprentice faced one such down.

There was one of her team that were slowly becoming a problem staff member. The issue seemed to be that whilst this apprentice loved one aspect of their job, the marketing, they were, frankly, absolutely useless at the other part of their job, the administration.

That got me thinking. Was it the apprentice who was actually that useless, or was this entrepreneur facing yet another one of the entrepreneurs curses?

The curse of problem staff

I see many successful entrepreneurs in my line of work and there is one commonality between them – they are doers, problem solvers and implementers. Wherever there is a problem, they’ll find a solution.However when it comes to problem staff most entrepreneurs take the direct route and act as managers. They see a problem and face the cause directly and if that cause is a person, then it is easier to remove the person than deal with the underlying issue.

In Monday’s example, in my opinion, the problem faced by this particular entrepreneur was not the apprentice’s problem but the entrepreneur’s.


The issue is that most entrepreneurs find it difficult to let go, to stop being a doer of things and become the manager of stuff and far more of these find it impossible to cease becoming a manager of stuff to become a leader of people.

That is the issue this particular entrepreneur faced, being unable to lead, being unable to manage and then being stuck with the results of, well, a lack of output from their apprentice. But do they actually have problem staff or are they part of the problem themselves?

What is the difference between a manager and a leader?

I see it quite clearly; a manager will embrace process, seek stability and always seek to control output. Instinctively they try to resolve problems quickly, more often before they fully understand the significance of a problem. A manager will ensure that you follow their route to get to a destination after they have collated the best available options from others.

Leaders on the other hand thrive in chaos and a lack of structure and are willing to delay solving a problem or finishing a task or project in order to understand the issues more fully. They won’t tolerate process or stability and don’t care to control the output, so long as the output is correct. They don’t particularly care about the journey because it is the destination that they know will be great.

Leadership inevitably requires using power to influence the thoughts and actions of other people. This is what a good leader will do, effortlessly and without overtly displaying their power.

In the case of the entrepreneur in question, when the apprentice doesn’t make the drinks in the office, or take out the rubbish, or order the stationery, then look at your leadership style and the culture you engender. Consider making them a drink to demonstrate the flat organisational structure. Ask the apprentice for their help in emptying the rubbish because you noticed that their bin was full and so are their colleagues. Next time your printer runs out of paper, grab a box, not a ream and distribute it to those around you. Lead by example and create the culture of co-operation.

Something to take away?

Don’t be an abysmal entrepreneur, be extraordinary and become the successful entrepreneur by leading, not managing.