Two important star performers gave their talent managers great anxiety recently culminating in strong action. First, Chelsea and France forward Nicolas Anelka was dispatched home from the World Cup in South Africa, after a half-time bust-up with manager Raymond Domenech, during their 2-0 defeat to Mexico.  

Next, President Obama sacked his top US commander in Afghanistan, saying he would not tolerate division within his team. It was an awkward echo of an earlier president—Harry Truman who retired General MacArthur was described at the time as arrogant and egotistical. 

When star performers cause problems they are usually high profile ones. For talent managers it can be extremely uncomfortable. For example they may need to rapidly re-exert authority over the rest of the team, while dealing with the problem star.

When John Terry recently threatened to cause an insurrection in the England football team in South Africa, Fabio Capello acted with speed and decisiveness. Capello's No2, was already being briefed as Terry drove the few hundred yards from the tented media centre to the team hotel.

Terry was made to feel like a guilty schoolboy as his insurrection attempt was instantly foiled. Capello’s managerial authority was triumphantly restored.

It happens to even the best talent managers. Cherished star performer sometimes turns sour. The challenge is what to do about them. Sack them, reprimand them or tolerate them for the sake of the team, the project, the company or event the nation. 

Talent managers face more than just star performers who may prove awkward. There are also prima donnas, rebels, and mavericks and stars. While it is easy to lump them all together under one label as problem people to manage them properly means being able to separate out one from the other and choose the most appropriate response.

For example, with prima donnas, the organisation has to adjust itself around them and they are mainly loyal to themselves. In contrast, rebels need the organisation to have a strong identity in order to kick against it, and are mainly loyal to their ideals.

Mavericks though will disregard the organisation if processes get in the way but do not kick against the organisation like rebels do. Stars will adjust to their surrounding and bring their talents to the situation and tend to be loyal to others and the enterprise.

Managing tough talent is seldom an easy ride, as Obama and Capello show all too clearly. Yet some of the basic ground rules are learnable.

5 Ways to handle the difficult talent: 

1)    Distinguish between stars, rebels, mavericks and prima donnas

2)    Devote time to discovering what each talent needs to succeed

3)    Analyze the balance between the cost or replacing and recruiting versus the cost of managing the person

4)    Review your own responses to the difficult talent, what’s underneath, what’s being triggered in you, and what exactly is triggering it?  

5)    Separate the person’s behaviour from the person, so you can react appropriately 

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.