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3 reasons to drop the curtain on your office prima donnas

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

by Scott Eblin

Over my 10 years as an executive coach, many of my clients have felt like they’re between a rock and a hard place because they have someone on their team who produces great results but alienates almost everyone around them.

You know the type. It’s what we’ve come to call the prima donna. The term comes from Italian opera where the prima donna is the “first lady,” usually with a reputation for arrogance, ego and irritability. These days, the term has become gender neutral. Men can be prima donnas, too. (American Idol’s Simon Cowell comes to mind.)

The prima donna is talented in his domain and selectively builds relationships with a few key people who can help him accomplish what he’s trying to do. Meanwhile, he treats his teammates poorly and starts making demands that have the whiff of extortion. (“If I don’t get the promotion, the raise, the big account, the glamorous assignment or whatever, I’ll take my services elsewhere.”) Every time he gets what he wants, it becomes fuel for a cycle of escalating demands down the road.

So, if you’re a leader with a prima donna on your team who keeps playing this game, what do you do? It’s simple. Bite the bullet and fire him. Here are three reasons:

1. You’ll get more from the rest of your team. Prima donnas are productivity and morale killers. When they’re playing their game, everyone around them is miserable, resentful and spending far too much energy griping about the prima donna.

Take the diva (or divo as the case may be) out of the picture and everyone else can get on with his or her work. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by how much more creative the rest of your team is when they get to breathe some of the oxygen the prima donna was sucking out of the room.

2. You’ll send the right message. By getting rid of the prima donna, you send the message that the health and welfare of the team is more important than the ego needs of any one individual. Most people are motivated by being a part of something that’s bigger than themselves. You can’t create the conditions for that to happen when one person is demanding the spotlight.

3. You’ll save yourself headaches in the future. If you’ve had a prima donna on your team, you know that once the pattern of “give me more” is established, it rarely ends. As tough as it can be to fire someone who is getting results at a critical time, look it as an investment in the long-term success of your team.

The analogy I make is to removing a Band-Aid from your arm. You can just rip it off or peel it slowly. Either way, it’s going to hurt. You might as well rip it off and get it over with. It’s the same thing with firing someone who’s established a history of being a long-term source of heartburn and headaches. Get it over with.


Author: Scott Eblin is an executive coach, speaker and author of “The Next Level” leadership blog at www.BusinessManagementDaily.com/NextLevel.

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