Why You Should Lose That Toxic High Performer Sooner Rather Than Later

Photo by Alejandro Ortiz on Unsplash

I’ve recently read (and shared) this MIT Sloan post about the notion of a “Toxic Superstar”. (My previous post on the topic is here.) Most of us do not require convincing that this scenario is a common one, or that managers ring their hands over it. However, if you are in the midst of this, you may feel frozen — and I may have to convince you to act sooner, rather than later.

Long ago, in my very first role a “toxic superstar” not only held an entire team hostage, she managed to have me eliminated for no good reason (except that she engaged in an intense competition with me). Sadly, I was unaware of this unhealthy dynamic until 4:00 PM on a given Friday afternoon. It was both shocking and devastating.

Toxicity happens.

I am fully aware of the risks that must be weighed which lurk in the foreground. There is the workload. The schedule. The deadlines. There is the effect (short and longer-term) upon the customer and the fallout this may bring.

Queue the impending tsunami of drama.

Now, I will encourage you to walk away with your winnings (but at the right moment, and with a plan).

Consider the following:

  • Membership. The very first thing to acknowledge is this: they are not a part of our team. They are rogue a soldier. Their goals are their own and they can be a destructive force when left to their own devices. Their presence is laden with increasing risk.
  • Currency. What makes them “tick” and brings them to work — is likely not what drives the rest of your team. This essentially limits your impact upon their behavior. In many cases, you will have little influence over them.
  • Consider your metrics. While the work may be moving along swimmingly, other metrics/costs are mounting. As a manager or team leader, are you willing to pay the outstanding debt, when all is said an done?
  • Psychological resources. Playing to this person and allowing them “go their own way” will eventually damage trust between manager and team. Observing a rogue superstar run the show, ultimately damages psychological capital.
  • Plan, plan, plan. Above all, it is important to separate the skill set, from the individual that is bringing it to the party. Offer them help to change their ways, but also start a plan to replace their competencies. You may be in the position to offer a another, committed team member a chance to shine.

Have you been in this situation? How did you proceed?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She examines the effect of Core Stability on work & work life life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program since 2012 — her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

One thought on “Why You Should Lose That Toxic High Performer Sooner Rather Than Later

  1. Thank you for posting this. It confirms my feelings and I am unsure many leaders understand how this negatively impacts the ones who are your steady eddies and do their best for the team not themselves.These individuals also are not usually willing to share the knowledge they have for fear someone else will get ahead of them. This does not help an organization grow only makes a difficult place to work.


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