July Leadership Development Round Table Challenge

It’s time for the July Leadership Development Round Table Challenge!

You may recall from last month’s inaugural event, this is where we put forth a vexing situation and a number of regular contributors plus one guest take the opportunity to share their best thoughts on how to handle it… in 200 words or less.  You vote with your comments and with your actual vote, and after one week of fierce but professional debate, a winner is announced.

This was great fun for all parties involved last month and it’s nice to get everyone involved in solving what are most definitely real-world challenges.  We appreciate your active contributions and votes!

This month’s contributors:

1. Dan McCarthy, from Great Leadership

2. Art Petty, from Management Excellence

3. Mary Jo Asmus, from Aspire-CS Note from Art: as of this writing, Mary Jo is still without power from the storms that hit the Midwest this week. She encouraged us to proceed on schedule sans her post.

4. Steve Roesler, from All Things Workplace

5. Jennifer Miller, from The People Equation

6. Scott Eblin, from The Next Level

and our esteemed Roundtable Guest this month is:

7. Sharlyn Lauby, from HR Bartender

OK, it’s time for the case. Fair warning, I’m the host this month, and it was my job to write the case. While a bit longish, I erred on the side of wanting to paint a picture for you to work with. It’s a real situation that is looking for a real solution. With no further adieu, here’s the July Challenge:

The Set-Up:

A case in a widely read publication once used the label, “Brilliant Problem-Child” (BPC) to describe the high-potential/high-performance employee who manages to tick everyone off while stomping on toes in pursuit of results. Certainly, our culture is filled with descriptions of leaders who are “less than nice” in the workplace, however, the situation gets complicated if your name isn’t Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison and if you’re operating somewhere in the middle layers of an organization.

Just about everyone knows or has worked around someone like our character, Joe, below, and if you’ve been Joe’s manager, you’ve dealt with the dilemma of “What price, brilliance?”  From “results at any cost,” to “why can’t we all get along?” there are a myriad of approaches with varying costs to teams, environment and careers.

Here’s a chance to help Joe’s manager, Pat, (finally) get this one right.

The Situation:

Pat Paulsen, the Director of Product Management for Apex Inc., sat for a few moments and stared out the window after the project team left her office. She was disappointed that her employee, Joe, was once again, the topic of discussion and complaint.

 Apparently, Joe had yet again stomped on some toes and bruised some egos on the project team.  He had shared his disdain for what he viewed as a slow and overly bureaucratic process to gain approval for the feature specifications for the next version of Apex’s flagship product.  When the project team resisted his efforts to ram through the specifications, Joe had used his considerable pull with the overseas head of engineering to bypass the team completely.  His response to the protests from team members was, “I’ll get this done with or without you.” 

Joe:

Joe was a widely acknowledged brilliant product manager who had worked hard since the business unit’s inception 7 years ago to translate customer needs into product ideas and programs that solved problems and kept competitors off-balance and chasing Apex.   

Additionally, customers and industry partners respected Joe’s industry knowledge and his zeal for supplying them with products that helped them run their businesses more effectively.  They even overlooked his propensity to tell them how to run parts of their business, because he was most often right. “One partner summed it up best, “Joe has a horrible bedside manner, but he knows his stuff.”

Pat and Joe

Pat, as Joe’s manager, had been on the receiving end of a number of these types of complaints over the years. The conversations typically started with, “I know Joe is brilliant, but… .” The group that just left her office didn’t include any references to “brilliant” this time.

Pat genuinely believed that she had gone beyond the call of duty trying to remedy the problem and support Joe’s development. In addition to documenting, discussing and offering ample feedback and guidance over the past few years, Pat had invested in Joe attending several workshops on improving interpersonal skills. And just last year, Pat, with her superior’s blessing, had invested in sending Joe off to the prestigious Institute for Leadership Excellence, for some focused and very expensive coaching.

Perhaps the most perplexing part of the situation was that Joe seemed to genuinely take the feedback and coaching to heart. He worked hard on modifying his behavior after receiving feedback, but eventually he would become frustrated when project team members or groups ignored his guidance or moved too slowly on an issue that he viewed as critical.

The Environment:

The values at Apex were clearly posted in every conference room and they clearly implored people to “Break Down Walls,” “Challenge the Status Quo” and “Serve Customers First.” Taken literally, Joe’s behavior matched those values perfectly. He did do great things for the firm, and he was a thorn in everyone’s side in the process. 

The success of the business unit over the past few years (much of which was due to Joe’s products), had led to a significant shift in the internal culture, from one fueled by entrepreneurial zeal to one that was building processes and relying more on teams.  It was clearly a different environment and one where Joe’s approach was increasingly in conflict with the emerging culture. 

What Next?

Pat shuddered to think what life would be like without Joe’s knowledge and expertise helping the company specify and launch great products.  She pushed the momentary vision of him wearing a competitor’s badge at the upcoming industry trade show out of her mind.

Pat had no doubt about Joe’s brilliance, but it was clear that his approach engaging with others had more than worn thin. She sighed and pondered what to do next.

Help Pat. What should Pat do given the history and circumstances described in the case? 

Advice from the Roundtable Members:

-From Art Petty, Management Excellence (note: as host, I’m honor-bound to write my answer before reading the answers from other members…thus my being first in the line-up.  All other posts added in the order received):

Pat is in a pickle, and her options are not great. Joe is unlikely to change his spots with more coaching and counseling, and the”or else” discussion will begin moving Joe out the door. Leaders often have to make hard, unpopular calls, and this certainly feels like one of those.

The values describe an aggressive culture, and given the growth (on the back of Joe’s products), new people and new processes and teams are forming and feeling their way forward. While Joe seems to introduce significant task conflict and creative tension, it does not appear that his behavior is unethical, immoral or toxic. It does create task stress, which can contribute to improved performance.

Strengthen the team…provide coaching and training on team dynamics, conflict resolution and managing challenging team members. No one should have to walk on eggshells around Joe, and individuals and groups must be comfortable conducting robust dialogue with him and each other. If his behavior crosses the line from task to personal and the toxicity goes up, I would advise Pat to move him out. For now, I’m not willing to suggest she trade a visionary with an unquestioned ability to create value.

Leadership is often lonely.

-From Jennifer V. Miller, The People Equation

It’s time for Pat to level with Joe and let him know that if he doesn’t curb his atrocious bedside manner, he’ll be discovering his brilliance somewhere outside of Apex Inc. Allowing this behavior to continue tells other employees: “It’s ok to act like a jerk as long as you’re brilliant”. Lots of really smart people don’t leave bodies in ditches, so the “we tolerate it because he’s brilliant” argument doesn’t cut it.

Joe’s been acting this way for seven years, so he’ll push back, offering evidence of all his accomplishments. Pat should meet with Human Resources to review the existing documentation and develop a plan for the conversation with Joe.

The overall message should be: “Joe, we appreciate your efforts on behalf of Apex. Business conditions have changed and we now need team players, not hard-charging mavericks. Your behavior must change, or you will be fired.”

After that, it’s up to Joe to determine if he wants to change. He’s increasingly becoming a square peg in a round hole. Not only is Joe’s behavior damaging to other employees, it’s most likely stressful for him to continually be told to “change”.  He may decide that it’s best to move on.

-From Sharlyn Lauby, H.R. Bartender

The thing that stood out to me was the environment.  The scenario paints a disconnect between the stated company values and the actual internal culture.  At some point, the company will have to reconcile this.  That’s another post.

I’ve seen this situation many times.  A person has creativity and produces at a high level but leaves body bags all along the way.  Hopefully, Pat is able to recognize the good things Joe has done for the company while at the same time realize it might be time for him to move on.

If Pat continues with the status quo, there are two possible repercussions.  (1) the remaining team members become completely disengaged creating an “us versus them” environment.  (2) Pat’s credibility goes down the tubes because she failed to deal with the situation.

Pat needs to explore a way to have Joe exit the team in a positive way, allowing him to keep his dignity.  At the same time, she needs to set new expectations for the remaining team members who will still be accountable for delivering results.

-From Dan McCarthy, Great Leadership

Joe is doing exactly what he was hired to do and you’ve allowed him to do. In fact, up until recently, it sounds like Joe’s values were a perfect match for your company culture.

Oh sure, you’ve spent a bundle on executive coaches and fancy charm schools, and for a while, he may have been ready and able to change. However, when push came to shove, you continued to let him get away with it because he got the results you craved. To make matters worse, it sounds like you’ve been so dependent on Joe that you’ve ignored the development of the rest of the team.

Managing an employee like Joe is like having a drinking or gambling problem – we deny there’s a problem until it’s a crisis.

It’s time to sit with Joe and spell out your behavioral expectations. More importantly, it’s time to lay out the consequences – this has been what’s missing in order for him to change.

If he does not change, then you need to follow-up on those consequences.  I’m betting he will once he sees you’re serious. That’s when you earn your stripes as a leader!

-From Scott Eblin, The Next Level

In considering Pat’s dilemma about Joe, two quotations come to mind.  The first is from the former French president and general Charles deGaulle.  “The cemeteries, he said, are full of indispensable men.”    Pat is feeling trapped because she’s allowed herself to believe that Joe is indispensable.    She will eventually have to deal with his behavior in a definitive way.  It’s just a question of whether it’s sooner or later.  Either way, she needs to start working on building the company’s talent pipeline now so that when Joe leaves she’s not left with a gaping talent hole in the organization.

That leads to the second quotation.  Paraphrasing Karl Marx (yes, that Karl Marx), the good of the many outweigh the good of the few.   As talented as they are, people like Joe ultimately stifle their organizations because the really good people leave because they don’t want to work with a pain in the butt.  If Pat lets this play out much longer, she’s going to be left with a lot of mediocre people and Joe.  Not a great competitive situation to be in.  She might have one more “You’ve got to change or else,”  conversation with Joe, but she has to be prepared to let him go.

-From Steve Roesler, All Things Workplace

Indeed, we’ve probably all dealt with high-performing/low-collaboration types. The last client situation with which I was involved saw the real-life “Pat” character follow the same steps described ( I was “Joe’s” coach). After being involved with a number of these, here are my thoughts. 200 words probably won’t do it justice.

  1. Joe works for a profit-making company that rewards revenue generation and will go out of business without it. (Note the Apex well-publicized values). So, the question to ask is, “While this huge pain in the butt is ringing up business, what behaviors can we all learn to live with?”
  2. Pat has introduced developmental activities to impact Joe’s behavior. In fact, Joe has actually exhibited desired behaviors. It seems that the smell of victory puts him into high gear and, like a profit magnet, he goes for the gold.
  3. Bypassing people and procedures is normally a no-no. But look at the bestselling books that tell you to be a Maverick or use the Fire-Ready-Aim approach to business. If you’re a high achiever, what are you supposed to believe?

One last possibility: team meeting with Joe to let it all hang out. Could it hurt?

It’s Your Turn…What Say You? 

 

Vote in the poll below for your favorite answer, and please share your own professional perspectives with a comment.

 

Comments

  1. I love this! GREAT answers from all the roundtable members!

    I think in the case of brilliant-employee-social-jerk, there really isn’t a right answer and it often depends on the specifics of the situation. Via emotional contagion, negativity does take a toll on performance. With that in mind, what is more important: Joe’s performance, or the performance of those people Joe’s negativity infects?

    With the changing environment of the company, it may very well be that Joe’s performance was important for the company’s the past but the team’s performance will be important for the company’s future. Perhaps as it stands, this isn’t a good fit for Joe anymore. I see two basic courses of action:

    1) If team’s performance is critical: Joe needs to make a personal change to fit the new environment. I don’t think he needs any more coaching or leadership development, the issue is not knowledge or behaviors. It’s more of a values and emotional self-control thing.

    2) If Joe’s performance is critical: it needs to be explained to the team why Joe’s behaviors are tolerated and how it is beneficial for them and the company. They need to understand this and accept it. Legitimate issues that cause conflict should be addressed. For example, the bureaucratic process that hindered Joe in the first place–can it be improved? Another option is to somehow mitigate Joe’s teamwork issues while maximizing his contributions–perhaps he can transition to a consultant or individual contributor role of sorts.

  2. David Locke says:

    Teach Joe to lead. Any product manager that says “I’ll get this done even without the team,” is a bad product manger. Joe is managing not leading. Joe’s manager is managing, rather than leading as well.

    I’d start by insisting that Joe tell me what each of his contributors need to get their jobs done, and what he can do to ensure they get what they need. Then, I’d have Joe lay out what data he can provide to each of his contributors would make a persuasive case to get that contributor delivering what Joe wanted. I’d make Joe tell me the stories of how he turned around his contributors, so they were headed in the desired direction. I would have Joe’s contributors inform me of every imperative Joe issues.

    What is OK for managers, like tearing down silos, is wrong for leaders. Sadly, this company is managing itself for the good of its managers, rather than the company, or the employees. It is no wonder that Joe doesn’t know how to lead, because this company can’t teach him that.

  3. I am surprised by the answers here. I think the problem may not be with Joe at all. Yes he causes friction with his coworkers, but he is obviously an employee who cares about the company, emulates its values and takes its customers to heart. If you remember when given feedback Joe took it to heart and put a serious effort, until he felt the company values or clients were put at risk.

    “Perhaps the most perplexing part of the situation was that Joe seemed to genuinely take the feedback and coaching to heart. He worked hard on modifying his behavior after receiving feedback, but eventually he would become frustrated when project team members or groups ignored his guidance or moved too slowly on an issue that he viewed as critical.”

    He also is the epitamy of the company values:
    “The values at Apex were clearly posted in every conference room and they clearly implored people to “Break Down Walls,” “Challenge the Status Quo” and “Serve Customers First.” Taken literally, Joe’s behavior matched those values perfectly. ”

    I am not a manager, nor do I want to be right now, but from all I have learned one of the key things I have learned is there are 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership (Kouzes/Posner), they are:

    Model the Way
    Inspire a Shared Vision
    Challenge the Process
    Enable Others to Act
    Encourage the Heart

    In all the problems that the company has faced from Joe, I get the impression he is just trying to do what he feels is best for the customer and puts the client and company values first. He models the shared vision of the company in what he does. I think the only problem I can see from the story given above is that Joe may need clarification to understand what is critical (if his views are in fact wrong, although I kinda doubt that). He put a serious effort in until he felt the shared vision was at risk, and the client was being neglected. Maybe the best solution is to use Joseph as a trainer or engage him as a leader, and have him teach the people (with company support and not on his own for a team he is working with) the shortcuts, resources, and information he appears to know at the top of his head. It appears to me that for all Joe is bringing to the company, he is not getting much kudos or recognition (Encourage the Heart) that both makes him feel appreciated for his efforts, or leads his coworkers to emulate his drive and ambition.

    Why are we not questioning the fact that the coworkers are refusing to learn from Joseph?

    I think a lot of information is missing from this scenario, as maybe Joe has a mirror deficit that needs to be addressed (Mark Goulston).

    Although personality does appear to be an issue here, would you fire the doctor who has the knowledge to cure you because of his bedside manner (picture HOUSE)?

    The worry I have from all your comments is that if you cut Joe loose and he is the only person emulating the values of the company, the current culture will squash those values. Cultural change is a long hard process, but I am not seeing anything being done to promote the values they so highly cherish. Pat even stated that it scared her to see him leave.

    As an employee, I would recommend some further thought into this situation.

  4. I would actually agree and disagree with all approaches. Infact other comments have been better. In my opinion on date Joe is now seen as toxic talent by increasing number of members. There is 3 step strategy for Pat to deal with Joe before ulcer turns into cancer.

    1) Tell Joe directly about toxicity. Sensitize that his performance cannot cover up toxicity.
    2) Give feed forward about what is to be done and give 12 months coaching with stress on showing some hope/improvement within months.
    3) Be ready to send him out to other Team or company, as deemed fit, from cues Pat gets from her feedback and coaching sessions.

    Gaurav Kapil

  5. Jim Arrasmith says:

    I agree with David Locke. In my opinion, practical application of leadership skills to nurture a team dynamic would be appropriate. Pat’s job is to facilitate the success of the team, which includes Joe. Allowing Joe to operate as a team unto himself isn’t in alignment with the organizational values when one considers the ultimate desired outcomes – profitability and sustainability. I would recommend Pat get everyone in a room and, through open and transparent dialogue, get all issues and concerns out in the open. This is the difficult part and requires a sophisticated set of leadership skills to be successful. There could be any number of outcomes. Joe could recognize a need to work harder at being an integral part of the team for the greater good of the company; or, the team could recognize an opportunity to capitalize on Joe’s strengths and talents as a results producer; or, others. Although firing someone is a viable option in the private sector (not so in the public sector), I would consider that only as a last resort. The challenge is to get the desired results with the available resources. That’s where leaders earn their pay.

  6. I am disappointed (not that it matters, of course).

    No one talks of leveraging Joe’s strengths. Nor do they speak to the widespread weaknesses and ‘sensitivities’ exhibited by the rest of the ‘team’ (we’ll get back to this). There’s a constant, exposed shallowness in Apex leadership that has nothing to do with Joe. Joe is simply the next excuse (in a long line of excuses) the others need to divest themselves of the blame for their poor management skills, feeble self-serving people skills, and absolute deficiency of leadership. I guess it’s to be expected. When all you see is the dirty bottoms of the Bally shoes on the person climbing the ladder above you, your judgment is impaired and you miss critical details. So, the team wants Joe out of their hair? Why is that? He’s a “maverick.” He’s not a “team player.” Sound familiar? It should. Except, that’s not the real reason; frankly, Joe makes them look bad. But Joe isn’t the problem.

    Sure, it’s easy to ‘manage’ Joe. After all, leaders often have to make hard, unpopular calls, and Joe’s increasingly becoming a square peg in a round hole. I’m sure Human Resources knows precisely how to deal with the Joe’s of the office world. With HR ducks in a row, Pat has what she needs to legally (Apex does, after all, live in an authoritarian, hierarchical world) give Joe an ultimatum and, if necessary, push Joe out the door, making life better for weak managers and making Joe someone else’s ‘problem.’ When that turn of events comes to pass, HR is relieved, the legal team is placed in a defensive posture of high alert, and Apex becomes a mediocre organization – just like all the rest.

    Except in Pat’s exuberance to deal with her management team’s perceived problem (Joe), she misses her own. That’s right. Pat’s problem is much bigger than Joe. We’ve already mentioned it. She, like most of her team, lacks leadership. What do I mean? In lieu of leadership, Pat (and others like her) tends to resort to common, self-preservation management tactics: development (another word for collegial conformity to the status quo) and, when that fails, blame the man (your behavior must change, or you will be fired) rather than the leadership (or lack thereof), fire him, and use the situation to instill the fear of God in the others (set new expectations for the remaining team members who will still be accountable for delivering results – results, by the way, they were unable to produce with Joe so how, I must ask, can we expect them to do so without Joe?) so their productivity will improve (or at least doesn’t decline). Now that’s a team everyone wants to be part of, I’m sure. Right?

    In truth, it’s precisely the kind of team a great many people are stuck with because those in roles of positional authority typically lack the heart to lead. If leaders increasingly find themselves with a square peg in a round hole, maybe it’s time to change the holes! You see, if the rest of the team is not strong enough to put up with/learn from Joe – to the point they are willing to let him lead the charge for a competitor – reassign the rest of the team. Keep Joe. Because Apex needs leaders far more than it needs pretenders standing on the sideline waiting for their turn in a comfortable ride to the top.

  7. After thinking through my entire response, I read the #3 response of Tammy and thought she articulated in writing my exact feelings far better than I had only mentally! Thank you for a well articulated response, Tammy, which I will ‘second’ and augment with a few thoughts of my own.

    The entire case presentation encourages readers to be self-focused or focused on individual perspectives, but there are a number of more important organizational, business performance and cultural issues to consider. I agree completely that Joe is being unjustifiably sacrificed, albeit inadvertently and certainly without malice, rather than encouraged to bring his very best, upon which the company has built itself. Danger signs abound about losing the culture that brought success despite having the most obvious tool in Joe to maintain that cultural strength. He is clearly an individual contributor being shoved into a team contributor hole, and all the energy spent trying to change him to fit an emerging culture that is in conflict with stated values anyway seems misdirected and frankly a bit self-centered. This is a classic example of management trying to fit high performers into their likeness or mold, rather than getting out of their box (ref. leadership and Self-Deception by Arbinger Institute) and truly embracing the considerable value Joe has brought to the company and seems to continue to bring. Finally, the team of complainers and whiners ought to be held more accountable for obstruction of customer satisfaction and business results than the case suggests they are, rather than being enabled in their unproductive habits.

    Having said that, I do agree with the idea of having a team heart to heart that includes Joe…first because these are adults who are perfectly capable of talking with Joe directly rather than going to Pat (aka Mommy, referring to transactional analysis), and second because Joe needs to understand how his behavior impacts others and consider genuinely their collective needs if he wants the team to ever listen to him. This is a two way street that Joe and the team need to travel together. Pat needs to focus on getting Joe into a leadership role where he can be an individual contributor and influence culture and business performance. And she needs to make sure the company isn’t sacrificing culture to avoid challenging team dynamics.

  8. Troy Drysdale says:

    I agree with Jack King on many points. Having been the “Joe” once, and now leading a few “Joe” style employees this would be my approach.

    a. Increase Joe’s perceived value of the rest of the team he works with. Joe is less likely to leave body bags when he understands their value to the bottom line success.
    b: Invest in increasing the rest of the teams potential and ability. These complaints sound like mediocre people who don’t like being made to look bad. Get their skills up, and teach them about conflict resolution. Companies are filled with average talent that benefit by having a super producer like Joe around. Get Joe involved with this process, because it’ll have a cyclic benefit with the first point, increasing his perceived value of them.
    c: Help the rest of the team understand Joe’s contributions, and challenge them to step up to that same level.
    d: Keep challenging Joe while setting clear expectations of behavior. You should keep an eye on his ego and toxic team behavior.

    With that said, should Joe slide into toxic behavior, develop inappropriate ego and reduce the productivity of those around him to a point that not even his results can cover, then you need to immediately intervene.

    “Joe’s” are hard to find, and removing them to save hurt feelings from others is a last resort!

    Clearly, I voted for Art’s write up.

  9. Brian Dornsife says:

    In this instance, I would focus on the process first and the people second.

    1. Is the process for product development working? Joe is frustrated with the ” slow and overly bureaucratic process to gain approval for the feature specifications.” The rest of the team feels Joe is ” ramming through the specifications.” Does the process need to be overhauled or at least tweaked? Is the team working toward the same goals? Are they meeting regularly to discuss status and evaluate risks?

    2. The people- Do they all understand what is expected? How are they being measured as employees and team members? Do they understand their roles? Does Pat need to get more involved with the status meetings until performance meets expectations (which should be clearly defined)?

    By answering the questions above, Pat and the team will probably find the solutions they need. It could also clear up some of the behavioral issues.

  10. To Art

    I am glad I dont work for Art. There is never just one brilliant mind in a group or a visionary for that matter. A guy like Joe tends to undermine everybody elses opinion and surely does more damage than good. The fact that the manager has not addressed it more seriously before now shows a lack of respect for the other members of the team. Todays teams are totally different from teams from yesteryear and using management style from yesteryear does not cut it any more. This is probably the most scathing comment I have ever posted on any blog but it is also something I see constantly undermining the business we are in today. Someone gets away with arrogant behavior because they are brilliant. Brilliant is a package and someone who lacks people skills is not a complete package and unfortunately has a short life span in any company. They will tend to drift around from place to place till someone recognizes them for their true potential and actually gets them to toe the line in an appropriate manner or puts them in a specific function where they can be creative but not at the expense of other employees. I agree that the perfect work environment contains conflict but then it also contains someone who can resolve the conflict. I agree that the perfct environment does not always cater to every individuals need all the time but then it also contains someone who will ensure that every individual still feels valued for their extremely important role. I suggest that Pat goes and reads the book called Crucial confrontations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. Read that book with Joe in mind and guaranteed by the end of that book you will know how to handle Joe.

    Awesome topic and sorry for my blunt opinion Art as I follow a lot of what you say and respect it, just sometimes try not be a manager and try be a team builder.

    johnkweber

    • Art Petty says:

      Enjoying all of the thoughtful, thought-provoking responses! Even yours, John! : ) And yes, I love the “Confrontations” books as well. Keep the comments coming…the point of this series is to get as many people as possible thinking and talking about some tough issues. I’ve used variants of this case in many settings…the feedback here matches much of what I’ve heard from exec teams, MBA students and other professional groups. As we move forward with this Roundtable Series, might be fun to have the members respond to the comments…right now our guidelines are 200 words or less answers and no responses to bias your selection. Also, may have to include a category of “Reader Responses” as a voting selection! Best to all! -Art

  11. David Buck says:

    As a rebel, two questions beg to be asked. How does the team perform (use whatever measures are appropriate – time to completion, new products introduced, new business, repeat customers, lost customers, etc.) with “coached” Joe versus “pain in the butt” Joe? The second question is how effective or efficient is the specification approval process with the “coached” Joe versus “pitb” Joe? Maybe that information would lead to fixing Joe, or fixing the team, or fixing the process, or a combination of all three.

  12. I agree with roundtable members and the commentators who say Joe needs to be dealt with. Pat did all the right things over the years with investing in training and coaching for Joe. It’s been long enough and there has been enough investment – now is the time to go through the formal warning and escalation process.

    What is not clear from the story, though, is whether Pat put the same investment and effort in coaching the team. This where I agree with Art. If the team is constantly complaining to Pat rather than addressing it to Joe directly, then it won’t have the same impact on Joe. Someone like Joe will respect the offended team members more if they deal with their issues with him directly. Plus, it’s an opportunity for the team members to better understand each other, to understand Joe, and possibly to adjust some processes that aren’t working well for anyone. If this sort of coaching hasn’t been done yet, it definitely needs to be done at the same time as the formal warning to Joe.

    Still, since this has been going on for years, Joe’s reputation is firmly established with the team and with the company. Even if Joe and the situation changes, the ghosts of his past behaviour may continue to haunt him. If the company culture doesn’t let bygones be bygones, it may be better for Joe to go through the process, learn and then leave.

  13. Align for the most part with Sharlyn’s approach with the additions – knowing, like others we read our lived experiences into the responses:

    1) Culture will eat strategy for lunch (connected with Peter Drucker) … even the people navigation strategy. Does the culture represent the values and vice versa? Is Joe aligned with the organizational values, climate, culture, etc. ??? What is Pat’s alignment? What are the alignment’s of the others?
    2) Are the people involved working in a team? … calling the grouping of people a team establishes expectations of the ‘way it works’ for everyone including Joe. Are they a Community of Practice focused on product development? ???
    3) From an ‘accountability for, responsibility to’ perspective – there appears to be a mish-mash of who is in, out, on the sidelines, in the bleachers, not even present, still to be invited in. What is Joe accountable for? And continue the Afor and Rto process map for the relationships with others including Pat.
    4) What is Joe’s Hierarchy of Values – work with his higher values! Do the same for everyone else including Pat. Yes, you can leverage the strength of capabilities and competence AND weave in the perceived/actual values of feelings and actions taken.
    5) From an ethics perspective … it’s a question of hospitality. It’s about how to welcome those who are about to arrive. What say you in preparation for their contribution. What was done to help the ‘team’ work with Joe?
    6) Then there is Joe and Pat’s relationship – the attachment of Pat to Joe’s brilliance. Ah, the error of energetic attachment!
    7) And yes – there is Joe … of What was for Joe does not fit What is for Joe. [That is, best practices of yesterday do not fit the practices of today!] From an ignorance (readiness), complacency (able-ness) and self-doubt (willingness) perspective , I suggest a question of self-doubt. However, I would need to meet Joe ))smiles

  14. William N Parker says:

    Joe is a highly competent performer who seems to “leap tall buildings at a single bound” as an individual team member. In team situations, he becomes impatient with collaborative problem-solving processes, and with team members who he feels are not competent. Coaching and development opportunities have not given rise to new, more collaborative mindsets and behaviors.

    One strategy would be to change Joe’s role. Make him an internal consultant to teams where his expertise would be vital. He can provide inputs and resources of all kinds to the teams, and he can even work with them to do in-depth pro/con analyses, but that will be where his role ends. During the team’s decision-making discussions, he can participate by providing his perceptions as to best recommendations. At the point where the team is ready to make its decision, Joe exits, stage left. He is not a part of the final decision.

    This strategy sets up a win/win for both project teams and Joe. His expertise is being utilized by up to the point where his participation would be would be counter- productive to team progress. The team is better able to reach its best conclusion utilizing Joe’s talents and input, without subjecting him to his default, high- expressed control behaviors.

    The project lead of each team would be required to include in any reports how Joe specifically helped the team with its decision, included any positive behavioral change that had been noted during team meetings.

    All during the process, Pat is checking with the project leads to see how teams are progressing, how Joe is contributing, and meeting with him occasionally to share her pleasure with the team progress, and in particular, his progress.
    Before Joe became consultant to any team, Pat would hold a “goals, roles, expectations, and priorities” session with Joe. He would be told of a company whose strategies had shifted from one of individual star performer/decider to that of teams, where team members with complementary skills sacrificed for each other to achieve shared goals.

    Pat would meet with Joe the day after his first meeting with his first project team to hear his review, and provide coaching as needed. Pat would continue to meet with Joe to discuss team progress and his contributions.

  15. My first thought: enlist Joe’s help in “fixing” the process.

    People complained because they saw Joe leaping over the process. But Joe didn’t complain, because he ultimately found a way to get his way.

    But Joe can’t be that happy about having to pull in favors to get the job done. Maybe he has some ideas about how the process can be modified to accommodate a SOG (stroke of genius) idea that benefits the company and its clients.

    Honestly, I liked the readers’ comments better than the ones provided by the leading experts. Then again, it’s usually easier to quarterback from an armchair (where you don’t get paid to be right) than from the playing field (where your rear end is on the line with every snap of the ball).

  16. Great answers and comments to a provocative challenge!

    I’d like to offer a rebuttal to some of the readers who thought many of us were treating Joe unfairly.

    Why in the world are we so willing to accept toxic behavior for results? There is no reason to settle, EVER. Once you do, you’ll destroy your team and culture. Jack Welch understood this when he was willing to fire managers that got outstanding results but did not uphold the company values.

    The research (CCL, Goleman, Ulrich, and others) strongly supports the importance and correlation between leadership behaviors like “problems with interpersonal relationships” and difficulty building and leading a team” and results.

    I wrote a post called “Managing the Toxic Performer” that addresses this issue:
    http://www.greatleadershipbydan.com/2010/07/managing-toxic-high-performer.html

    And btw, for the record, I would work for Art Petty in a heartbeat.

  17. Harry Stein says:

    Let me sum things up a different way after reading this most enjoyable web page:

    What does it tell us when **some** of the roundtable’s opinions are (IMO) virulently weaker than most of the guest readers brilliant (IMO) comments?

    Most of us have studied and understand leadership. It is a daunting challenege for one and one reason only: we may find ourselves surrounded by employees, management, owners or a culture seeped in mediocrity… or are ourselves medicore.

    Joe needs to find a way to start his own business, with others like him — Apex is only as strong as it’s weakest links and there are plenty of them and Joe is *not* one of them. Every problem is fixable with root cause analysis. Joe is not the problem. The problem is noone wants to do the root cause analysis and take action.

    Nothing I have said here is not already echoed by the commentators.

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