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How to handle a difficult employee on your team

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 there wouldn’t be a company without the accounting staff to invoice clients, he smugly says, “It’s not the same. You can’t invoice what sales doesn’t create.”

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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 lacked, but worry when she throws out processes that work.

According to both these diva employees, you’re their manager in name only. If you manage or work alongside a diva employee, what do you need to know?

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 co-workers generally don’t call divas on their rogue actions because divas react with disproportionate anger when taken to task.

More: How do I handle a co-worker who is making me look bad?

Divas don’t view their manager or co-workers as anyone they need to listen to. They don’t recognize their manager as higher in 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 hearing 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,” while 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.

Years of experience have shown me these strategies work.

Establish a positive relationship with the divas on your staff. If you don’t, 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 also 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’t handle constructive criticism — they expect applause. This can be hard to take, but 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.

More: How to survive workplace ‘mean girls’

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc., founder of Workplace Coach Blog and author of Beating the Workplace Bully and Solutions. You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10.

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