Leading difficult people: Fearful Fred


Someone once said, “90% of the art of living consists in getting along with people you cannot understand.” Haven’t you found that to be true? I know that if everyone were just like me, then relationships would sure be a lot simpler.

But people ARE different, in wonderfully complex ways. And there IS an art to living together. If you’re a leader, the differences are amplified, because you have to not only get along but also influence the other person. So it’s especially important for a leader to learn how to handle personalities and attitudes that are different from your own.

I’ve led a lot of people over the years, and not all of them were like me. Some were especially difficult to lead. And over the years, through trial and error, I’ve discovered ways to effectively lead most people.

For EVERY person you lead, it’s important to get to know them well. Understanding is the key to success in leading a difficult person. That’s because people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. For the next few weeks, I’m going to share some tips for dealing with the difficult people that you may lead.

Let’s talk about one type of difficult person today, so you can understand who he is and where he’s coming from. This will make you a more effective leader for him and others like him.

Fearful Fred

Have you met Fred? He’s a nice guy, certainly not trying to be difficult. He’s just a person living under the influence of his fears. And their influence is amazingly strong. What Fred is most afraid of is the unknown. He avoids anything new or different, so it’s hard to lead him where he’s never been before. And his fears paralyze his productivity.

To lead Fred, you need to understand him, be willing to listen, and give him tools to grow. People truly don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If Fred trusts you and believes that you have his best interests at heart, he can be very loyal and even courageous.

Understanding Fearful Fred:

  1. Attitude:           Low Enthusiasm
  2. Motivated by:    Support
  3. Strength:          Steady Worker
  4. Weakness         Fear of Risk

Listening to Fearful Fred:

  1. Privately sit down and discuss Fred’s fears.
  2. Identify his fears and the reasons why he has them.
  3. Evaluate his desire to overcome his fears.
  4. If his desire is high, develop a game plan.

Leading Fearful Fred:

  1. Plan a project together.  This gives him Strategy
  2. Give guidelines to follow. This gives him Structure
  3. Do a project that is easy. This gives him Safety
  4. Do a project together.     This gives him Security
  5. Do a project that is winnable. This gives him Success

Helping Fearful Fred Grow:

Read Failing Forward together.

Do you lead a Fearful Fred? Or maybe YOU are a Fearful Fred. I’ve found from personal experience that by attempting to understand and meet him where he is, a leader can successfully influence Fred and help him to grow. And a motivated Fearful Fred can also lead himself through these exercises and find courage.

Next week, we’ll talk about another difficult person: Slumped Susan.

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  1. 1
    Christy Moosa says:

    Face your fears! Reading this makes me face my fears, dealing intimately with fearful people. I do not have the energy or the gift of mercy. I would have to delegate this task. I guess you could say I lead best from the pulpit so I dont get side tracked from negative energy. The realtiies of leadership are scary in themselves and this again is fear, not that it paralyzes me but prepares me for when our paths meet. Your leadership is so practical. The greatest gap in leadership is getting us from where we are and to we need to be and its a loooong process.

  2. 2
    @marcmillan says:

    What a great post and clear as water on the west coast. Thank you for laying it out like this, this helps me understand ways to interact with people such as Fearful Fred and give me tools to help them succeed.

  3. 3
    Anne Evans says:

    Thank you so much for this post. My husbands former boss only looks at people in terms of ways they are not just like him and literally verbally abuses them as he considers them less smart, creative, industrious , etc. The best boss I ever had, did just as you suggest Dr Maxwell. She worked hard to get to know us and mentored us as needed. She had very high expectations and it was a pleasure to work for her.
    Thank you for your wisdom and leadership.

  4. 4

    John, Thanks for this post. I like what you said about understanding, it is the KEY to success in leading a difficult person.. I have found this to be very true!

    It reminds me of one of my favorite Covey quotes:
    “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” ~Stephen R. Covey


  5. 5
    Florence Sithole says:

    Dear John
    This is very important as it helps in a number of areas like during appraisals, type of leadership to apply that is supportive style and understanding individual differences required when you have fearful Fred within the team. etc

  6. 6
    Steve says:

    Dr. Maxwell,

    You always seem to know where I am at, and what I need! Great article that is spot on. Thank you for your wisdom and insights.

    Best Regards,

    Independent Mission Marketer

  7. 7

    Thank you

    I have never really known how much of a “Fearful Fred I was until I read this blog. Thankfully I had an amazing Leader who did all of the above and pulled me up and out of that kind of mindset.

    Now, I realise that it’s my turn to Lead “Fearful Fred”, and I plan to use all of the above!!

    I do not have a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and of self-discipline.

  8. 8
    Dominion says:

    I’m very happy with the topic but kindly elaborate more on how a fearful person who has a very high expectation to overcome this fearful nature can go about it. From nigeria

  9. 9

    Thanks for providing clarity on this character, as well as helping me see the reflection in my mirror. Can you give some practical tips on how one can go about gaining understandig about those we will lead, especially in situations where time is not a luxury we may have an abundance of?

  10. 10
    christine says:

    Your Practical advice is valuable and highly appreciated. Thank you For investing in my personal leadership development! I Religiously try to apply your recipies which ensures success! THANK YOU

  11. 11
    Denis Flores says:

    Thanks again for sharing with us this issue. I think everyone working with people need to know the different personality types to improve our ministry, work, office or in our own family.

    God bless.

    Greetings from México!

  12. 12
    Reflecto says:

    This post made me think of all the fearful Fred’s in my life. Not only do I know a few but I recognized fearful Fred in my own life at some point or another.
    In the journey of life, there are moments when it all seems too much and fear of the unknown can take over. If doable steps are not applied, such as the ones you have highlighted above, it is quite easy to fall into the rabbit hole of ones fears.

    Fearful Fred exists in all of us at one point or another. To lead one or to be one means to work at the steps in order to see yourself on the other side.

    Thanks for a great post.

  13. 13
    Robert says:

    This article made me realize why people are sometimes fearful for and of nothing. Thank you John for sharing.

  14. 14
    Gustino Kachingwe says:

    Hi John,

    I appreciate for that post. Infact, understanding people is the basis of true and lasting relationships. John, keep it up! Your posts tackle practical issues.
    Good day!

  15. 15
    Angie says:

    Is Fearful Fred choosing the change or forced to conform to a change? Organizations in their re-structuring do have to prioritize differently to make the company grow. But, perhaps, it would be better if Fearful Fred found another job, where he feels comfortable.
    I don’t believe that everyone wants to “overcome their weaknesses”.And that should be their choice….

    As to leadership, leaders cannot influence those that don’t respect them. Respect is earned, if the leader is really interested in impacting the person and not just getting the organization off on the right footing. Leaders are not always respected, and such leaders also face criticism and resistance.This is the case, when leaders “surprise” their “underlings” with ‘abrupt’ and major change…. Perhaps, the leader should seek to change, throught better foresight, planning and strategy. Or perhaps, the leader needs to focus on his own personal weaknesses and areas of change!

  16. 16
    Justine (WWDB) says:

    Thank you! I look forward to next people and personalities!

  17. 17
    Darren says:

    Loving difficult people takes effort.

    You’ve got to extend yourself to get to their heart, hurts, fears, and dreams.

    Once they feel at ease with you, it’s easier to influence them.

    Thanks for the insight!

  18. 18
    Ramona says:

    Very well written!

    Thanks a lot for identifying this type of fearful people. Their lack of enthusiasm used to scare me and give up, but now I`ll try to understand and persuade them with my plans!
    Though the problem is crystal clear, I don`t think the steps you provided us are truly effective. I`d like to see an example or some more developed ideas.

    Thank you, it was a pleasure to read your article!

  19. 19
    Angie says:

    People like you that have plans of “world changing” might not appeal to those that want to make a good and stable income for their families. Their values are important for social stability, so labelling such people as “fearful”, because they don’t risk, is a little presumptuous or arrogant on your part, don’t you think?

  20. 20

    I am glad that someone gets the fact that leadership has more to do with how you handle people rather than how you handle work. A good leader has to know how to help his people grow rather than just being able to plan and execute.

    Please do visit http://www.beyondhorizons.in for a different set of views on leadership and life skills.