This past week, I had a late-night conversation with a colleague about leadership. We were discussing different type of account managers, and went deeper in the ones that are extraordinary at some things, but just plain non-compliant at basic parts of the job. I am sure you know the type. They have the most amazing ability to connect with people they care about, namely their clients. They are completely aware of their needs, surroundings and sensitivities. These same professionals completely lack tact, care or pride on nearly everything internally. By definition, prima donnas, but I saw them as “stars.”
During my first 2 years in a leadership role, I had a few of these types on my team. Congruent with most aspects of nature, there are imbalances in their makeup; extraordinary in one area, deficient in another. With all of the attention they attracted, positive and negative, I couldn’t help feeling like I was taking short cuts by managing them in a way that allowed them to operate as they were, while I filled the gaps. I recall a specific manager who questioned why I would allow this and not pursue termination. It was out of pure self-preservation, I found myself asking these employees to behave at public company functions, as a personal favor to me.
While I was very aware of all of these behaviors, I was focused on the possibilities in their potential….rather than the inappropriate behaviors that are on display. If we fast forward, these employees were of the most successful in the company. They were million dollar earners. They were the ones on stage at President’s Club accepting the award from the executive team. How is it possible that the employees that my manager, peers and other coworkers were insistent on their termination, are now being held up as “the model?”
I realized I had stumbled on a great leadership skill. The ability to see opportunity when others cannot. My opportunity was to exploit my ability to be whatever was needed so these stars can operate with their natural behavior.
Show me a group of highly talented, but dysfunctional people and I will give you a team that produces 300%.
Back to my conversation this past week with a colleague, we each made personal sacrifices, in defending these employees as well as with the workload that they added on our shoulders. We both had stories of how we affected not only their success, but also their lives. We agreed, it is most satisfying when they acknowledge the personal difference that we made, when others have abandoned them.
To borrow from Liam Neeson’s quote from the movie Taken, “I have a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare to people like you.”
However less dramatic than the movie, identifying greatness in your people, helping them to achieve and enabling them to thrive, is leadership.
I will always trade an occasional nightmare for access to an elite set of skills.