We’ve all heard the excuses:
“They just care so much…they are very passionate.”
“You should have seen them a few years back – they are really mellow now in comparison to then!”
“They have a lot on their plate at the moment.”
The bottom line is that a lot of people, in a lot of businesses, get away with being badly behaved because of who they are. Maybe they bring in more business than anyone else, maybe they have been around for a very long time, maybe your business genuinely does depend on their work. None of this, however, overcomes the fact that behavior that would not be tolerated from most members of staff is quite often considered part of who these “superstars” are.
This phenomenon can be called “The Steve Jobs Effect.”
I’ve been reading Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography of Jobs. For all that I admire the man for his dedication to the user experience, and to creating great products (I’m writing this on an iPad, while listening to an iPod, and checking Twitter on my iPhone), I can’t help feeling that I would have had nothing to do with the man had I met him while he was alive. That is not a very popular opinion these days, but even if you ignore all the dubious dealings, and less than perfect life choices, it is difficult to argue that Jobs was anything other than a horrible person to work for.
Tantrums, routinely losing ones temper, and humiliating those who report to you, are not how most people want to be treated, and at the end of the day, as a management or leadership strategy, it does not work and it is not acceptable.
There are essentially three ways to deal with people who’s idea of management is to induce fear and to shout louder than anyone else.
1: Accept it.
2: Fire them.
3: Work with them to improve.
It is interesting to note that Steve Jobs experienced all three.
As mentioned above, just accepting bad behavior from any employee is the road to ruin.
Firing them is a viable option, but since they are a superstar, you will have to think very carefully as to the ramifications of termination.
Working with them on their behavior is really the only option unless you feel it is either you or them.
In reality, most businesses are going to accept bad behavior from their “superstar” employees, but ultimately this does no one any good as the employee will probably end up being fired for going too far. Not to mention opening up the business accusations of creating a hostile work environment. It is important to understand that this kind of behavior is about the person themselves – not the people that surround them and are the aledged triggers. Bad behavior makes the badly behaved feel good. It is a way of telling themselves that they are doing something without actually having to do anything other than shout or throw things.
The challenge, of course, is to try and work with these individuals to limit the worst of the behavior and solve the underlying issues that set them off in the first place. This does require a certain amount of “pandering” for want of a better expression, but since the alternative is to fire them you do what needs to be done. It is important to note, however, that the disciplinary action, up-to and including termination has to be an available option, and as a manager you have to be prepared to use this should the situation demand it.
I believe, that the tools you use to work with the badly behaved “superstar” are pretty similar to those of working with an under performing employee. Coaching sessions, inserting yourself into issues before they turn into explosions, and winning enough trust and respect from both sides to come up with workable solutions. If you can show your badly behaved “superstar” that praise, cooperation, and the basic social niceties (please and thank you go a long way) actually work, and makes their lives better, then hopefully they will adopt some of those tactics as their own.
I am however a realist. I can complain that the Arizona Sun is hot, and I can do things to modify the environment to lessen its impact on me, but I cannot change its nature. Many badly behaved “superstar” employees will fall back into bad habits if you do not stay on top of things and call them behavior that crosses the line. It is important not to back down – but also not to fall into their way of handling conflict. They are wrong, you are right, and you have to have the courage of your convictions.
Ultimately, the badly behaved “superstar” employee may have be a superstar somewhere else. The chances are the superstar of your business is not Steve Jobs. If they are, maybe you need to be somewhere else.
The great Malcolm Tucker from the BBC’s superb “The Thick of It” showing how not to people manage. WARNING: Very strong language!
Do you have any experiences with the badly behaved superstar – Care to share?