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The Five Major Strategies for Managing Highly Talented, but Highly Difficult Employees

September 14, 2022
By: Patrick Bosworth in the Communication category.

We all have that one colleague. The one who is incredibly talented at their job, but equally difficult to work with. Maybe they’re always challenging the status quo or prematurely pushing for more responsibility. Whatever the case, managing these types of employees can be a real challenge.

But, it’s important to remember that just because someone is difficult to work with doesn’t mean they’re not valuable. Many of the most talented employees are indeed the most difficult to manage. So, how can we handle these types of employees?

Don’t Take Their Behavior PersonallyCoaching Difficult Employees

It’s important to remember that when someone behaves in a challenging manner, it’s not necessarily personal. There could be several factors at play, such as stress or anxiety. When possible, try to step back

and see the situation from their perspective. It’s best not to make assumptions, and when the time comes to interact with them again, consider your approach.

Here are some strategies for diffusing the situation that we have found helpful in our own offices:

  • “It sounds like maybe you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. Can we chat about how I can help you manage your workload?”
  • “I know you’re passionate about this project, but I’m unsure if now is the best time to take on more responsibility. Let’s talk about it and see if there’s another way we can get you involved.”
  • “I understand you’re upset about the changes we made to the project, but can we please discuss this calmly, so we can figure out a solution that works for everyone?”

Set Clear Expectations From the Beginning

Be clear about what is expected from them regarding their work, their behavior, and how they interact with other team members. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page, and avoid any misunderstandings down the line. If there are specific areas where they tend to struggle, make sure to address those as well.

Some ways to set expectations include:

  • Outlining specific goals and objectives for the role
  • Creating a detailed job description
  • Drafting a code of conduct or set of team guidelines

Acknowledge Their Talent

One of the best ways to manage a talented but difficult employee is to simply acknowledge their talent. This doesn’t mean agreeing with everything they say or do, but it does signal respect for their ability and what they bring to the table. It’s far more likely that the employee will in turn respect authority, and will be more receptive to criticism or constructive feedback.

Be Consistent With Feedback

When giving feedback to a highly talented and difficult employee, it’s important to be consistent. This means offering feedback regularly, both positive and negative. When we only provide criticism, even constructive criticism, the worker may feel that their talent is unappreciated. On the other hand, if managers only give compliments, the employee may become complacent and stop putting in the extra effort.

The key is to find a balance and to be as specific as possible with giving feedback. This way, they’ll know what they need to work on and what they’re doing well.

Have Regular Check-insSuccessful Leadership

It’s important to stay in close communication when managing talent, difficult or otherwise. Regular check-ins will help managers stay up-to-date on the progress their employees are or aren’t making, and will provide opportunities for offering feedback or help if needed.

These check-ins can be informal conversations or more formal meetings, depending on what works best for the team. Either way, decide what should be discussed, and leave time for them to ask questions or share any concerns they may have.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the key to managing highly talented and difficult employees is to set clear expectations, be consistent with feedback, and offer challenges and opportunities for growth. By doing this, these especially talented employees can reach their full potential while also staying engaged and motivated.

Download our Leadership Guide to Emotional Intelligence