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Vicky Oliver is a Manhattan-based job interview consultant and career adviser, and the bestselling author of five career development books.
Vicky Oliver is a Manhattan-based job interview consultant and career adviser, and the bestselling author of five career development books.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Managing six talented but difficult employee types Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

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Many of us got to our positions of leadership without a lot of mentoring. Now we’re in a leadership role with people on staff looking up to us for direction and guidance. We know that we will be viewed partly on how well we develop talent – yet the most talented people on staff are sometimes also the most difficult people to manage.

Here are six common “types” of talented people, along with some strategies for managing them.

The Ravenous Superstar

She is supertalented, and boy does she know it. She comes in early, works late, seems to get more done in less time, and her ideas are smart and mostly on target. The problem is, even though she treats you, her boss, with the proper amount of deference, she is hungrier for more assignments, recognition, boss time, and training than her peers – and they resent it.

Management strategy: Find an employee whom she can mentor: someone who’s talented and ambitious, but deserving of more attention. Put your superstar in a role where she’s not only doing her work, but she’s responsible for developing a true peer. This will help foster co-operative rather than competitive skills. Since this type of employee tends to “go it alone,” be sure she’s working closely with her protégé and not just assigning her difficult tasks and letting her flounder.

The Perfectionist

This talented employee is so detail-oriented he puts you to shame. Every report he hands in is perfect, and every task he does, he does well. However, his need to dot every “i” has, on occasion, held up projects, and other employees find him difficult to work with because he’s never satisfied with their contributions. In a team-oriented culture, he’s just not a team player, and complaints about him abound.

Management strategy: Perfectionists burn out quickly. They often enjoy less job satisfaction than their peers. Talk to this employee about aspects of his job that he finds frustrating. You might learn, for example, that a particular process is inefficient – and he can suggest a better way to get the job done. Or you might discover that he’s better suited for a different department. Above all, praise his high level of competence, but try to get him to identify aspects of his work style that impede his performance.

The Splicer and Dicer

She has a carefully calibrated sense of what does fall within her job description and what doesn’t, and she is unwilling to touch anything that doesn’t. The problem is, between layoffs and new technology, everyone needs to embrace new tasks – even this talented employee.

Management strategy: Call a staff meeting and spell out what the new expectations are. Tell your employees that they will be evaluated partly on their ability to help out in these new areas. If possible, invest in training for your workers so they can take on new challenges with confidence. If the Splicer and Dicer still resists, schedule a one-on-one meeting to find out what will help her feel more comfortable taking on these new tasks.

Mr. Temper Tantrum

This talented employee does almost everything right. He’s creative and smart, hard-working, and reliable. But he has a sarcastic edge and is often short-tempered with his co-workers. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t respond well to constructive criticism. When you offer him feedback, he just clenches his jaw and nods, as if you’ve just given him a pink slip.

Management strategy: Point out to him that he could very easily be promoted to a management position based on his skill set and accomplishments. However, managers need to become “people” people. They must learn how to take constructive feedback, get along with others, and intuit others’ feelings and emotional needs. Ask him to define resilience – a critical competency for your fast-moving business. Help him see that producing at the top is great – but only if he’s flexible enough to manage critical relationships.

The Brainy Underperformer

You hired her because she was top of her class and had a résumé that made her stand out from the competition. She’s clever and picks up new concepts quickly. But in meetings, she rarely speaks, and others on the team treat her as if she’s invisible. Something is holding her back. She’s timid or perhaps has low self-esteem.

Management strategy: Don’t give up on this employee. In her own way, she’s calling out for targeted coaching. Ask her to honestly evaluate her own performance. You may uncover a simple lack of confidence. She may have excelled in business school, but in the hardscrabble world of competitive personalities, she’s falling behind. Consider sending her to a coach who can help her develop presentation skills – thus boosting her communication techniques and confidence level. Then ask her to run a team meeting.

The Invisible Cog

He never misses a day of work and always tends to arrive and leave at the same time each day. He completes his work competently and spends almost no time socializing with colleagues after hours. In some ways, he’s an ideal worker. It’s hard to complain about him because he’s a functioning cog in the wheel and doesn’t draw attention to himself in a negative way.

Management strategy: Every business needs people who get the job done consistently. They aren’t particularly creative or innovative, but they function well behind the scenes.

But Invisible Cogs may have hidden talents, and as a manager it’s your task to help your solid team players grow. Offer this type of worker a development opportunity that’s more people-focused. Perhaps you can pay to have him trained in a new software program and then promote him to one of the team leaders who trains others. You may discover that your Invisible Cog has great reservoirs of talent.

Vicky Oliver (@vickyoliver) is a Manhattan-based job interview consultant and career adviser, and the author of five career-development books, including Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions.

Follow us on Twitter: @Globe_Careers

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