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His words are discouraging. His actions undermine people. His presence impairs progress. "Critical Charlie" is as negative a person as you have ever met. For him, the sunshine is too bright, and the birds are singing too loudly. He is motivated by anyone who will listen to his complaints and rants. There is a little bit of truth to his words; you can't ignore him. Even if he is achieving results, his constant critical attitude hinders the overall effectiveness of your team.

As the leader, you need to confront Critical Charlie.

Privately sit down and discuss Charlie's criticisms. Let him know that his negative attitude is a problem. Give specific examples of how his actions have hurt people and progress. Then, ask him to explain what is prompting his negative attitude. Why does he criticize instead of find solutions?

Once you have talked to Charlie, offer him a proper avenue for his critical observations. If he is having a problem with an individual, he should resolve it with that person. If he cannot, he should then come to you for assistance.

If Charlie is having a problem with the company, he should come straight to you. Let Charlie know that it is never appropriate to share his criticism with a third party. Besides, it is more effective to deal directly with the source.

...Then Lead
If Charlie agrees to the boundaries you outline and he follows through on this agreement (based on his behavior), you won't need to involve other people. However, if Charlie continues to inappropriately criticize individuals and the company, stronger action is required.

1. Ask the people affected by Charlie's criticism to meet with you and him.
The goal of this meeting is not to gang up on Charlie, but to help him realize how his criticism affects other people. Bring in the people who have most recently been criticized. You don't want to dredge up things that happened years ago, unless the effects of the encounter with Charlie are still a factor. Try to limit the number of people in this meeting.

2. Ask them to tell their side of the story.
Give each person a turn to discuss his or her experience with Charlie. Try to keep the discussion focused on facts and results. Give Charlie specific examples.

3. Ask Charlie for an explanation.
After each person recounts his or her experience with Charlie, give him time to explain. In most cases he will not be able to justify his actions. If there is an underlying reason for his critical attitude, this is the point where it should be detected. Is he bitter because he didn't get a promotion? Do his job responsibilities overwhelm him? Do his hurt feelings stem from his relationship with you or another team member? Once you detect the source, deal with it privately.

4. Give them all guidelines for positive criticism.
Tell your team to come to you to share their opinions or observations about the company, and to approach individuals on the team directly. Be clear that criticism should never be expressed to other people. Remind them that the best way to deal with a problem is to go directly to the source.

If the problem still continues...

5. If Charlie is an employee, it is time to let him go.
If Charlie is a volunteer, share publicly with people that Charlie has a critical spirit, and share the process you have asked him to follow. And encourage people Charlie affects not to provide him an audience in the future.

As a leader, your goal is to turn Charlie around. I have found that most difficult personalities were not so difficult once I faced them. It is possible that Charlie's criticism is stemming from another issue. By confronting him about his critical attitude and listening to him, you should be able to find out what the source of the problem really is.

Respect is the key to difficult relationships, and by giving Charlie personal attention you will have an opportunity to gain his respect and build the relationship. If you can help Charlie overcome his critical spirit, Charlie can become a more productive team member. Instead of attacking the other members of his team, Charlie can become a positive problem solver. With your guidance, he may even become a team leader.

This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's free
monthly e-newsletter: Leadership Wired available at

Author Biography

John C. Maxwell
Web site: Injoy Group
John Maxwell grew up in the 1950s in the small Midwestern city of Circleville, Ohio. John's earliest childhood memory is of knowing that he would someday be a pastor. He professed faith in Christ at the age of three, and reaffirmed that commitment when he was 13. At age 17, John began preparing for the ministry. He attended Circleville Bible College, earning his bachelor's degree in 1969. In June of that same year, he married his sweetheart, Margaret, and moved to tiny Hillham, Indiana, where he began his first pastorate.

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