The Most Committed Managers Are the Most Difficult: The Challenge of the Workplace Martyr

If you’ve ever walked the tricky tightrope of high standards and uncompromising values set by a leader who sees any deviation as a lack of dedication, then you’ve met The Martyr!

To find out how to deal with a difficult Martyr in your workplace, please read on, and check out my book, ‘The 9 Types of Difficult People’.

The Martyr is a highly-principled person with a strong work ethic who builds fiercely loyal teams. They can become judgemental, uncompromising and disconnected from people they regard as less principled or less self-sacrificing.

Whilst their dedication is inspiring, their inability to compromise can stall progress, create friction within teams, and stifle innovation.

Their judgmental outlook and disconnection from ‘less principled/dedicated’ colleagues can lead to a divisive atmosphere, undermining team cohesion and productivity. And if you work for a Martyr, there’s a strong risk that you’ll get dragged down with them, sacrificing your own career or work-life balance without needing too.

If you’ve got a Martyr in your organisation, here’s how to deal with them

If you’re their leader, make sure you’re sharing your own principles. Even if those are different from the Martyr’s, it’s a good way to re-connect with them. Then you can ensure that they know the bigger picture priorities, and why compromise is needed to make some progress towards important goals. And check that you haven’t set them up to fail, with impossible tasks, constraints they can’t control, or a highly risk-averse culture.

If you work for or alongside a Martyr, don’t tolerate their criticisms or judgements of you. And don’t let them turn their back on you. Instead, knock on their door and ask for the kind of mutual compromise that makes sustainable progress possible. Make sure you’re not relying on them to help you develop your career – they’re too ready to unconsciously sacrifice. On the whole Martyrs are sensitive to other people’s needs so will often be very open to any kind of approach.

If you want to help develop a Martyr, your focus should be on exploring what’s behind the negative judgements they make about others and the unhelpful beliefs that might be leading them to self-sacrifice.

Beyond Judgement: The Martyr’s Path to Influential Leadership

At their best, a Martyr can be a transformative leader, able to influence not judge, and so can sweep away roadblocks and be supported by passionate followers, all sustained by a healthy work-life balance.

Have you encountered a difficult Martyr in your workplace?

How did you deal the challenges they presented?

Checkmate – why your brightest colleagues try to keep you in the dark

In the chess game of work there’s a player who is often several moves ahead.

It’s the Dark Strategist 🤯

Featured in my book, The 9 Types of Difficult People, the Dark Strategist is someone who will treat others like chess pieces, to be moved around to deliver an ambitious grand plan.

It’s often just too slow, too tedious and too outside their comfort zone to explain, coach and collaborate with you instead.

But even though they’re smarter than average their approach can be flawed, with important details overlooked. And they can sometimes let a perfect concept be the enemy of a good execution.

However positive their intention, whether it’s steering the company through a crisis or grabbing an opportunity no-one else has spotted, they can leave people feeling manipulated and undervalued. So that, in the end, nothing actually gets properly done.♟️

💡 Here are some of the main tips from my book about how to throw some light on your dealings with a Dark Strategist and quickly improve working relations, whether you’re their leader, a colleague, or a team member. Or just someone who wants to help them stop being quite so difficult!

🌏 As their leader, if you can speak their language – big-picture, strategic-thinking – that’s sometimes enough to coax them out of the dark and towards a rounder approach. Treating people as people and managing concrete tasks as well as abstract strategy.

🤝 As a colleague or a team member of a Dark Strategist, you’ll also need to learn how to co-strategise, connecting your own knowledge and goals to the wider vision. This will keep them connected long enough for you to join in the big chess game too.

♟️ If you don’t do this, you’re likely to get treated as a chess piece yourself. Call this out, and don’t tolerate they’re treating you like an idiot, just because you don’t also start from a big-picture assessment of things. Collaboration is the key to a successful workplace, and doing that well depends on a good variety of skills and approaches.

In the next of these articles I’ll be taking a look at a different type of difficult person at work. Someone whose positive qualities and strong principles can themselves be the cause of problems.

And to see all of the types I’ve covered so far, or to grab a copy of my book, check out the tags below and/or the links to in the sidebar.

Worst Enemy at Work – or Best Ally? How to thrive alongside a Scary Specialist 🤨

Ever found yourself working with or for a Scary Specialist?

You know the type – brilliant, indispensable, but SO challenging to deal with! They’re the ones who know everything about a particular topic, and they’re not afraid to let you know it.

So, how do you turn this potential ‘worst enemy’ into your ‘best ally’?

Here’s the four steps you need to follow:

1️⃣ Raise Your Own Game

  • Step up your skills and knowledge. The Scary Specialist respects competence. Demonstrate your own commitment to excellence, and they’re more likely to see and respect you as a peer.

2️⃣ Speak Up, Don’t Suffer in Silence

  • If there’s an issue, voice it. Scary Specialists can be intense, but they also respect honesty and directness. Approach them with clear, constructive requests for what you want.

3️⃣ Boundaries Are Your Best Friend

  • It’s crucial to establish what you will and won’t tolerate. Be clear about your limits and communicate them confidently. Scary Specialists appreciate those who stand their ground.

4️⃣ Stay Connected

  • Keep building relationships within your team and the broader organisation. It not only prevents isolation but also offers you a wider perspective and support network.

Remember, a Scary Specialist doesn’t have to be your nightmare at work.

With the right approach, they can become an invaluable ally, helping you to new heights in your career.

📘If you want to go deeper into navigating workplace dynamics with various challenging personalities, please check out my new book, ‘The 9 Types of Difficult People’, recently published by Pearson and now in the WHS top 10 business books list. Look for the links below or in the sidebar.

And in my next article I’ll be looking at the type of difficult person closest to my own approach – the Dark Strategist 🤯

Mastering the Challenge of the Scary Specialist

The scariest person I ever worked for was a former UK table-tennis champion, then my regional GM.

She had a habit of giving you the hair-drier treatment at the same time as eating a crusty cheese roll. And I was struggling with a new appointment to an under-performing division.

We both knew what needed to be done. But the problem for me was how far and how fast that could happen. Not far or fast enough I realised, in between dodging the crumbs!

Nowadays I really like working with scary specialists like her.
🚀 Why NOT focus on being competent and driven and delivering the best that you can.

🛑 But what I also know now that I didn’t know back then, is that the hair-dryer approach isn’t always the best way of GETTING to that high-delivery place.

And there can also be a lot of collateral damage around a scary specialist. Good people won’t tolerate feeling threatened, belittled or locked-out for long – and will leave. Leading to a spiral of declining performance.

❓Who is or was the scariest person that you ever worked with?

❓And what should you do if you’ve got a scary specialist in your organisation?

Collateral damage is happening and performance isn’t improving. You might be tiptoeing around their threats while being told, “Go away; I’ll sort it!”

Focus on these three points:

  1. Sometimes, leaders of a scary specialist might find that their skills and competences are so essential that you need to ensure they only ever have the best people and the slickest of support functions around them.
  2. But more often, leaders will need to also become a little scarier themselves in this situation. To demand that this person develop new ways of managing – or else.
  3. Use their desire for competence to help. Demand that they develop skills which can also take their people from zero to 100. Not just manage well with an already high-functioning team.

If you’re working alongside or below a scary specialist, it can be an interesting experience! In my next article, I’ll look at issues around defending boundaries, raising your own game, and not becoming isolated in the process.

📚 For more insights into dealing with a scary specialist, please check out my book, The 9 Types of Difficult People. See the links below or in the sidebar.

And in the meantime – keep dodging those crumbs!

Maximising the Impact: How to Use ‘The Nine Types of Difficult People’ Effectively 📘

Improving workplace relationships can be tricky, especially when dealing with challenging personalities!

My book, ‘The Nine Types of Difficult People‘, is designed to be your guide through this maze. But how can you get the most out of it?

Here are some tips:

🔍 Understand the Layout

  • Chapter Two is Your Starting Point: It sets the foundation for the rest of the book. Start here to quickly understand my overall approach and how to apply it.
  • The Matrix of Difficult People: Took a look at this tool in the early chapters. It’s crucial for identifying and understanding the different types you might encounter.

🤔 Reflect on Your Situation

  • Identify Your Difficult Person: Use the matrix and descriptions to help pinpoint the type of difficult person you’re dealing with.
  • Context Matters: Consider your role in relation to the difficult person – are you their leader, colleague, or team member?

📝 Apply the Strategies

  • Tailored Approaches: Improving relationships works best with the right strategy. Find the chapter that corresponds to your identified type and explore that.
  • Practical Tips and Tactics: Implement the suggested strategies in your day-to-day interactions.

🔄 Iterate and Adapt

  • Not a One-Time Read: Your first pass through the book is great beginning and often leads to some useful quick-wins. Return to the relevant sections as your situation evolves.
  • Stay Flexible: Be prepared to adjust your approach as you learn more about the individual and the dynamics involved.

🔗 Connect the Dots

  • Beyond the Individual: Use the insights from the book to enhance the overall team dynamics and culture in your workplace.
  • Share Your Learnings: Discuss concepts from the book with colleagues to help build a more understanding, collaborative and effective working environment.

Dealing with difficult people is both a mindset and a skillset that can be easily developed. My book is here to guide you, and the real change happens through your application of these strategies in the real world.

Let’s make work a place where everyone can be at their best!

Were problems at OpenAI caused by Sam Altman being a ‘Difficult Revolutionary”?

In my new book, ‘The 9 Types of Difficult People’, I write about what can go wrong when someone who readily embraces change fails to bring all of their stakeholders along on the journey.

A Revolutionary is someone who:

★ Is usually a self-starting, enthusiastic person
★ Is great at discovering out new ideas and different approaches
★ Readily embraces change; and
★ Will push for fast and wide-ranging transformation regardless of its wider implications.

In the right circumstances, these are terrific qualities. But things can go wrong at work if this kind of person:

★ Exceeds the boundaries of what’s expected of them
★ Goes faster than their allies and supporters can deal with
★ Overlooks the slow and iterative political consensus building that other people often need before being ready to support and adopt new ideas.

At the time this article is published, there has been lots of coverage in the press about OpenAI founder Sam Altman’s firing by its board.

Altman’s career so far, his transition from selling Loop, joining Y Combinator and then to OpenAI, and the pace of change there, certainly share some of the characteristics of a Difficult Revolutionary that I’m looking out for.

According to The Guardian Sam Altman was fired because he “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board”. When staff warned that Altman’s departure could trigger OpenAI’s collapse, The Guardian reports, the board said this would “be consistent with the mission”.

Without knowing more about what’s happening behind those boardroom doors, we can’t say for sure if that failure to bring stakeholders along is exactly what’s happened here – but it looks like it might be!

☞ So, if you’re on the Board of an organisation with a Revolutionary at its helm, or if you’re a Revolutionary yourself, what should you do to create great working relationships?

🙃 More than anything, leaders of a Revolutionary need to be working hard to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Checking that their agendas are aligned, discussing what is and isn’t acceptable to aim for, and making sure the wrong bridges don’t get burned. That leadership is vital in keeping a Revolutionary’s efforts directed at the right common ground.

🙃 Revolutionaries themselves are often surprised that others don’t share all of their zeal. So my favourite tip for them is to learn the influencing, alliance- and consensus-building skills that will attract all their stakeholders to the cause.

Viva la revolución!

Here’s the link to The Guardian article referenced above:


Beyond the Monster Myth: Unraveling the Mystery of Difficult Leaders

The more people I spoke to about this leader, the more worried I got:

🔴 “Extremely difficult, scary and obstructive!”

🔴 “The department is haemorrhaging staff and managers.”

🔴 “Every time we try to change something, he blocks it!”

🔴 “You are literally our last attempt before we look at dismissal.”

By the time our first coaching session came around I was expecting to meet something of a monster.

But what I found was very different.

It seemed to me that here was a baffled and bewildered person. Someone in a demanding role, in challenging and shifting circumstances, trying their best to get good outcomes for their department’s clients. In the only way that they knew how.

As well as a slight concern that I was being played by this person, I left with lots of questions. How could there possibly be such a massive gap between what I thought – and the hugely negative experiences that other people were having? In the end, we coached together for six months and created some very positive change.

I got so curious about what was going on to create this kind of situation to start with that I ended up writing my first full-length book about it – The Nine Types of Difficult People.

If you’ve ever wondered how it could easier to help a difficult person themselves, or how the people around them can deal with what’s going on as quickly and effectively as possible, please check out the links below to discover more about the book and look around this website for other resources.

Grab yourself a copy at any good bookshop or online using these links:


WH Smiths:


Crumbs! I’ve only gone and had a book published …

Even though it’s been a massive part of my work for years now, deciding to write a book about how to deal with *difficult people* wasn’t easy.

My take is that almost everybody we find difficult is someone trying to do their best, in a situation they find very challenging, in what is often the only way they know how. So if you want to make a difference in that situation it has to involve a lot of soft compassion 𝒂𝒏𝒅 hard constructive challenge.

And that’s why I was so grateful to win the support of my agent Kizzy Thomson, editor Eloise Cook and the rest of the fantastic team at Pearson, who all really got what the book was about and the approach it needed to take.

Thank you to supporters, pre-publication reviewers and everybody who helped me over the last three years of putting this together. Individual thanks and copies are heading out as soon as.

The presses are rolling and my hope now is that a copy of my book drops into the hands of someone who needs it just at the right time.

Grab yourself a copy at any good bookshop or online using these links:



WH Smiths: