Lynne Curry: The tricks to managing a diva employee

Lynne Curry

Your sales manager considers himself above the rules others obey. "After all," he tells the frustrated accounting staff, "without sales, there wouldn't be a company." When they argue back that there wouldn't be a company without accounting staff to invoice clients, he smugly says, "It's not the same. You can't invoice what sales doesn't create."

Despite his arrogance, you put up with him because he can sell and your clients like him.

Your newly hired office manager views every system set up before she came aboard as pitiful. She slashes and burns long-standing procedures, even ones that work well because she says they won't fit into her "overall plan." You hired her because she has impressive operational skills which your company has lacked but worry when she throws out processes that work.

In both these diva employees' views, you're their manager in name only.


Recognizing the diva employee

While they're not always right, they're never in doubt.

Diva employees ignore company policy because they prefer making their own rules. Managers and coworkers generally don't call divas on their rogue actions, because divas react with disproportionate anger when called on their actions.

Divas don't view their manager as an individual they need to listen to or even recognize the manager as of higher status in the organization as they consider themselves an organization of one. Unlike other employees who check in with managers before they take high-risk actions, divas simply act. Most managers eventually fire even highly talented divas because of the collateral damage they cause.

Divas are subject to their own ignorance because they have a hard time taking in or even listening to another's views. Often, they highlight as virtues what others see as their flaws. A diva supervisor I met critiqued employees in front of their co-workers. When I called her on it, she responded, "I'm blunt and perhaps some can't take it," and, "I believe in creating an open, transparent organization," not understanding she humiliated one employee and embarrassed others.

Angry divas send their managers and co-workers lengthy scorched-earth emails documenting their views. Once they hit send they consider the matter solved.

Divas come in male as well as female form.


If you've decided to keep your diva on board

Given that most divas possess star qualities, particularly with customers, their managers view them as high maintenance employees they can't live with and aren't sure they can live without.

From years of experience, these strategies work.

Establish a positive relationship with the divas on your staff. If you don't and given that divas don't see the need to create a relationship with their manager, you won't have the communication channel you need to bring them into alignment with everyone else.

Managers often let divas break the rules. If you let them enjoy privileges because of their value, be clear about your reasoning with other employees -- because they will notice.

Almost every diva is also a "player." Not only can they figure every system but they enjoy manipulating these systems and their bosses. Occasionally divas sabotage their managers, co-workers or companies in ways others don't learn until their manager finally shows them the door.

Divas consider themselves awesome and can rarely handle feedback -- they expect applause. This can be hard to take but giving them constructive criticism and dealing with their ego is the price of doing business for those who manage them.

Finally, continually assess -- is this diva worth keeping? If the diva's skills are hard to replace or the diva is a star performer, you may want to keep him. Don't, however, let a diva hold you ransom. If he's disrespectful of you or disparages you or the team to others, give him tough love and consider cutting him loose.


Dr. Lynne Curry is a management- employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to and follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10.



Lynne Curry