The Coaching Solution

If you read Steve Job’s biography, as I did, you were probably struck by what a talented but extremely difficult boss he was.  Words like temperamental, obsessive, tyrannical, and self-centered, come to mind along with visionary and creative. This was certainly a man who wouldn’t and couldn’t fit into the typical corporate culture.  So he created his own.

Jobs’ unique story is instructive: Talented but difficult executives can add great value to an organization, and we dismiss them at our own risk.  These individuals may be shy and socially awkward, prone to emotional (usually angry) outbursts, sometimes inappropriate in their interactions, or just “misfits” with the particular corporate culture. Their signature characteristic is difficulty working with other people, especially their peers.

‘Think different’ about talent management.

The talent management field focuses on standardized interventions – policies and procedures that are geared to average, expectable personality types.  But the reality is that day-to-day, under the radar, much effort goes into individualized management of quirky, difficult  – but valued – employees, including executives. Because they typically don’t tick all the emotional intelligence boxes and can have a real negative impact on others, it is tempting to eject these nonconformists from the organization.

Standardized interventions aren’t typically effective with the talented but difficult executive since personality dynamics act as barriers to absorbing corporate norms and values.  However, the right coach can play a critical role in fostering engagement and contribution to the organization. In these cases, a coach’s psychological training and skill are essential to bring understanding of deeper motives, needs, and conflicts to connect the nonconformist executive to the organization’s mission.

My response to an overt or implied organizational wish to either cure or fix the “talented but difficult” executive is to set a more realistic goal:  Help align the nonconformist executive to the organization in a way that benefits both for a period of time. Although both parties may be relieved when the engagement ends, both executive and organization will have fared better by resisting the forced march to homogeneity.

Related content

Beyond Fix or Fire: 5 Steps to Manage the Maverick Executive

Corrective Coaching: A Tool For Managing At Risk Executive Behavior

Executives Behaving Badly

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