Q: I have a team member who is extremely successful in some ways and very toxic in others. Others on my team often complain about her, but she gets results. What should I do?
A: How do you like working with someone like that? When you’ve been in that situation, what have you hoped would happen?
You’ve got to put yourself in the shoes of other folks on your team. If you’re allowing bullying or just tolerating negativity, you’re not doing your job as a leader.
That said, there’s not a simple answer for what you should do; it will depend on past efforts you’ve made to address the situation as well as the specifics of her strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s assume that you’re starting from scratch in dealing with this. The first thing you need to do is talk with her about her behavior and her effect on the team. To prepare for this important (and possibly fraught) conversation, spend some time reflecting on your observations. Identify the pros: she is the most creative designer/high achieving sales person/productive programmer/etc. you’ve ever seen. Then the cons: she is dismissive of others’ views, abrasive with team members, takes the credit for others’ work, etc. Be ready to speak to the behavior and the outcomes, and have enough detail to bring it to life.
This conversation could have a number of outcomes. The happy path? She didn’t realize and resolves to change her ways. Then you can provide mentoring and help restore the relationships in order to move forward.
Or, she could be dismissive of your comments, preferring to rely on her performance strengths to carry the day. This is quite likely if her negative behavior has been going on a while. This is where the serious effort will come in.
First of all, decide how far you’ll go. Are you willing to lose her to protect the team? This is an intentionally leading question. The other way to think about it is, “are you willing to lose the other talented and capable people on your team to keep her?” Because that’s what will happen. Those with the best prospects will leave. And it won’t be because of her — it will be because of your inaction.
Then draw a line in the sand, combining clear expectations for change and clear consequences for status quo. Ideally, in this way you’ll create a path for her to succeed. Define a desired outcome and identify the changes she needs to make. Then meet with her again to discuss.
At this point, you can prioritize actions for improvement so that the process of change isn’t overwhelming.
If she chooses to engage, I encourage you (and her) to let the team into the loop so they’ll know she is making an effort. Otherwise, she may encounter a wall in terms of willingness to trust.
Finally, if she chooses not to engage, be sure you’ve been involving your HR team so that you are prepared for hard decisions.
Also, have a backup plan in place in case she leaves suddenly!
It takes leadership courage to confront this situation, but your team will thank you and your company will benefit.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.