Having a supremely talented and confident employee is a wonderful thing — except, of course, if that person is alienating their colleagues. If you have a difficult superstar, what are some ways to help them improve their relationships?
My husband worked for a company where the top performing salesperson was toxic. She made up her own rules. She disregarded protocols, which created chaos and resentment. She was mean spirited to the other staff, and made disrespectful comments to and about company leaders, which left a wake of confusion, hurt and anger. She outperformed everyone else in productivity and in burning through relationships. Staff complained bitterly but leadership didn’t do anything. They kept tolerating her behaviour because she brought in lots of money. Until, at one company Christmas party that included employees’ partners and customers, she got hammered, climbed up on the stage with the band, and started trash talking. The leaders felt humiliated. She was fired the next day.
Character matters. If you have a difficult superstar, what are some ways to help them improve their relationships?
For starters, coach. Provide direct feedback. Be honest about how they’re being perceived and explain the consequences of their behavior. Don’t sugarcoat the situation.
Start by acknowledging their positive contributions to the organization and then address their impact. You can say some something like: ‘You’re highly productive and you’re an integral member of this team. And I’m concerned about your impact on others. On this team, everyone is held accountable for not just what they do, but how they do it. I’ve noticed you talking abrasively to me and others. Others on our team have said to me they feel hurt, resentful. They are reluctant to work with you and they don’t want to be. I don’t want anyone to feel alienated on this team. In order for you to continue on this team, you must learn how to behave differently and to treat people respectfully. Let’s talk about this.”
Next, encourage them to develop more empathy and consider their colleagues’ perspectives and viewpoints. Ask them questions like: “What do you think matters to so-and-so? What do you imagine is his biggest concern? How can you find common ground with them?”
Help your difficult superstar see how their behavior could derail their career. Teach your employee techniques to help them become aware of people’s emotional reactions. And demonstrate to your employee the value of asking questions.
Your objective is to foster their social and self-awareness. But don’t expect your efforts to yield immediate results. Behavioral changes take time but toxic behaviour needs to change quickly. If they can’t improve their behaviour within a specified period of time, you might need to cut ties. It’s time to stop treating character like an afterthought. Character matters. You can do it.
And one more thing. We have lots of great information and free tools for helping leaders and their teams become more functional and able to flourish more easily.