“What do you do with problem team members? Ignore them, develop them, or release them?”

When Phil Jackson, NBA title-winning coach of the Chicago Bulls, talks about how he handled Dennis Rodman, the rule-breaking out of control player of the 90s, he said he managed to gain control by giving it up, at least in the mind of Rodman.

Jackson explained, “When we try to control the actions of independent-minded, highly paid talents, it’s like putting cattle in a small pasture, they keep breaking through the fence.”

Every organization has “A” players, performance and attitude are outstanding. “B” players, performance is average-to-good, and “C” players, performance is barely acceptable to, this person has to go. Poor leaders cater to the “A’s,” they load up the “B’s” with all the work the “C’s” should be doing, and tolerate the “C’s” until they can find a legal reason to fire them.

Great leaders empower and release the “A’s,” nurture the “B’s,” and find creative ways to move the “C’s” up a level, if possible, before releasing them. They know the cost of replacing a problem team member may cost more than devising a plan to improve their performance.

Before replacing “people with problems” make sure you have made a reasonable investment in making them a viable team member, especially if you invested heavily in the potential you saw when you asked them to join your team. Remember, be slow to appoint to avoid having to disappoint.

Poor leaders try motivating problem people, most of the time without any sustainable success. Our English word, “motivation” comes from two Latin words, meaning, “to come from behind and push.” It’s difficult motivating anyone to do anything for very long who has no inner desire to improve.

Motivation is a personal decision that only an individual can make, based on their own internal “motivators.” There are about as many motivators as there are people so don’t spend a lot of time figuring it out. Great leaders inspire properly motivated team members. They deal with motivation first and production expectations second.

Some keys to working with poorly motivated people are; pay attention early and often, identify and address any work-life balance issues, and do they understand their assignment and expectations? Finally, is your leadership the problem?

Most people aren’t bad people by nature, they just have a key that you have either overlooked, ignored, or refused to develop. When Dennis Rodman, known as “bad-boy,” joined Michael Jordan, a consummate professional, he performed admirably. As a result, the team won six NBA championships.

What about your “problem people?” Did they have those problems when you asked them to join your team, or did they develop them under your leadership? Either way, as a leader you now own the problem and the rest of the team expects you to fix it.