Managing Challenging Behaviour

Managing Challenging Behaviour

16 August 2016

Managing challenging behaviour in your staff team

"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in" - Proverbs 3:11-12

Confrontation and discipline; the source of angst and frustration for many a Headteacher. Yet not only are these principles biblical, they are vital for maintaining the well being of a staff team. Below Liam Dowds shares some ideas on how we can do this better.

1.Reward what you want, confront what is unhealthy

Perhaps the golden rule in managing people from any background in any situation: if you want behaviour to be repeated and replicated, reward it. Equally, if you do not want certain attitudes, behaviours and practices to be repeated and replicated elsewhere, they must be challenged.

2. Don't mistake cowardice for kindness

Although there are undoubtedly times where "turning the other cheek" is necessary, repeatedly letting things go in order to avoid causing offence is not kindness but cowardice. When unhealthy behaviour is left unchallenged, it resurfaces time and again in different guises to the detriment of both the person in question and the staff team as a whole. Challenging such behaviour is often the kindest thing a leader can do for their staff.

3. Be bold, be kind

The way we say something can be just as powerful as the words themselves. As followers of Christ, we are called to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) and the ability to confidently and compassionately confront unhealthy behaviour is one of the greatest gifts a leader can give their staff team. So don't be scared to be bold, but for Heaven's sake don't forget to be kind!

4. No cold shoulders

A cold shoulder can be more hurtful than a harsh word. If you want to create a healthy culture where people can be challenged to grow and learn from their mistakes, I would advise against a "hit and retreat" disciplinary approach. Whilst giving some space can be helpful, it is important that staff know you are available and interested in them, and this is never more true than after being corrected. I would therefore suggest checking in on the offended party soon after so they know that you are willing to move forward and have not withdrawn all support hereon in.

5. Prevention is better than cure

As with all things, prevention is always better than cure.  If you see a negative attitude forming, gently confront it before it becomes a behaviour. Perceptive leaders are those who keep their ear to the ground and are able to identify the underlying attitudes that lead to negative behaviours. By correcting perceptions and attitudes before they take root, effective leaders can successfully alter the way their staff think and not just the way they behave.

6. Never rebuke in anger

It is often said that our emotions are good servants but terrible masters. When we allow ourselves to make a knee jerk reaction and speak (or send an email) from a place of frustration and anger we risk overstepping the mark and forfeiting the higher ground as a consequence. Avoid pressing that send button or calling that meeting until you've taken time to process and pray - that way you'll avoid saying anything in the heat of the moment that you will regret later.

7. Everything is hard before it is easy

Although some are better at it than others, the truth is that few people enjoy confrontation. Yet it is an unavoidable part of a leader's job description and when neglected, the whole team suffers. The simple truth is the more you do it, the better and more confident you will become.

Liam Dowds is Managing Director at Emmaus Leadership.  You can read more of Liam's articles at  You can follow Emmaus Leadership on Twitter @talentedleaders.  Connect with Liam on LinkedIn.  If you are looking to recruit a new Headteacher for your school please get in contact on 01737 652 043.



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