He was one of a kind, probably a genius. Letâ€™s call him Steve. Steve was an engineer who worked his way up to designing unique systems. His work had won important contracts and acclaim. He had garnered a pocketful of patents.
To the outside world, Steve was something special. He got along really well with clients and folks he thought were intelligent. To others, Steve could be a real pain in the neck.
Steveâ€™s philosophy was â€œItâ€™s about the work and getting it done. Either do it or donâ€™t. If you donâ€™t, youâ€™re gone. In the meantime, get over whatâ€™s bothering you. Weâ€™ve got work. Itâ€™s about the work and getting it done.â€ Steve was a productive guy.
When the business Steve worked for was in good times, they let Steve have his way. His work was impeccable. His handpicked team understood his gruff, no-nonsense style and performed well. Their jobs came in under budget, on time, and with kudos from clients. The problem began when work started to slow.
People at the company began to worry whether they would still have work. They looked for reasons that the company was slow for work. Of course, only the folks at the top knew the reasons for sure, but that didnâ€™t stop everyone from needing to have some. One of the reasons they came up with was Steve. People at the company started to discuss his flaws. The biggest of which was he didnâ€™t treat people nicely.
People remembered slights and sharp words. The circumstances and his personality led to complaints about him. In the end, despite his stellar talent, his unique systems, and patents, Steve was dismissed because he didnâ€™t understand a critical issue.
Being good at what you do is important, but a strong personal identity includes both good and easy to work with.
A company will make room for idiosyncracies that donâ€™t upset the balance or upset the people. Talent and unique skills are good when they move things forward, but not good when they become the conversation or when they get in the way of the work.
Would you rather work for someone good who is nice or someone stellar who is not?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Check out the Work with Liz!! page in the sidebar.
Rick Cockrum says
I dunno, Liz. Where am I going to learn more, Hell’s Kitchen or Texas Roadhouse?
Steve was effective, productive, made the company money, and satisfied customers. He got fired for being a poor politician. Wouldn’t the company have been more honest to be open about why they’re going down instead of scapegoating Steve? And more effectively dealt with their downturn?
ME Strauss says
Was he a failure at politics or just a jerk who treated people badly? Actually the real-life guy was the second. He didn’t give one hoot about the people.
Did they scapegoat Steve? I’ll have to go back to read the story . . . hmmm I think he was a spoiled brat who got to get away with things when they could afford it, and didn’t when they no longer could. 🙂
Justin Kownacki says
I agree with Rick. It all comes down to what you’re looking for in a job: hugs, kisses and a good time, or accomplishment and experience.
I can talk your ear off about bosses and employees who were nice as pie and horribly ineffective. To me, the bigger question is: can you equate being good to others with also being an effective leader? Too few people balance that ship.
In any business where a considerable portion of your assets (your people) can choose to walk out the door at any time, it strongly behooves management to work to make them want to stay. The Steves of the world are a luxury that only thriving businesses can afford (and even then they can be a liability).
A stellar AND nice leader generally multiplies into a stellar team, and that’s where I want to be!
Rick Cockrum says
I’m an office illiterate. The only time I had to work in an office with colleagues, I ended up quitting because of the way people acted – one of those assets who chose to walk out the door.
So why don’t companies get rid of the Steve’s sooner? Because the short term dollars outweigh the longer term costs?
When things are going well he appears to be a valuable asset; innovative, customers love him. In the Competitive Mind, that’s good enough reason to keep him.
April Groves says
I’ll tell ya, Liz – it depends. Now that I work for myself and I determine much of my own way, I would prefer to have a good, nice office manager over a stellar jerk.
However, when I was in the military, while nice is great, more than a profit is at stake. It is most important to be stellar. It is part of my job to separate the message from the messanger.
ME Strauss says
Welcome! Thanks for joining the conversation.
I had no idea that this one would be controversial, but I look back and raalize that nice and stellar are matters of degree to me. Stellar can be self-centered and prima donna. Nice can be inefficient and “pleaser.” They both have their downside. On that I bet we all agree.
But if we say that stellar is a patent-worthy perfomer missing the personal skills to relate and nice is an average performer who makes folks who work with him or her inspired to perform more or better . . . Then I’m going for nice.
Brad K. says
A good supervisor or manager should be growing his people – all his people – all the time. If you have a worker that is abrasive, there are ways to smooth edges and bring those that diverge from optimum ‘getting along’ into the fold, in a graceful fashion. Note I mention this is something a good supervisor should be doing, not that it is easy.
The company was content to let Steve direct his efforts and his team efforts while work was good. I notice that Steve’s problems only emerged as a factor in the company when the work slowed. While everyone drawing a paycheck is capable of losing sales, and most are capable of keeping customers happy, Steve isn’t mentioned as a cause for loss of work. For all we know, the company was formed to service one contract, and the contract was completed and delivered. Management failed to drum up replacement work, to maintain a backlog. Rather than retool and invest in research or other infrastructure improvement that would keep people busy and reinvest in the company’s future, management was content to let company gossip invent a scapegoat. They were likely eager that such a useful scapegoat turned up. By letting Steve go, they dumped, probably, one of the higher salary expenses in the company. If they had completed the work Steve excelled at, they figured that they wouldn’t likely need his expertise any longer. They may have hoped that Steve’s co-workers could handle the load if need be. But – any management that willing to let resources slip away due to internal friction is likely to continue reinventing their company into a torture pit for the rest of the employees. Remember, instead of providing management, they let Steve guide and craft the organization that gave the company success. In a small company or startup that probably is fairly common, but does *not* demonstrate either leadership at the top, or an infrastructure that will allow leadership to all of a sudden be imposed from the top.
Steve may have been a problem for the company, but the company did not manage work or people well. Score -1 for Steve, -4 for the company.
Patents are more about lawyers than original or valuable work. If Steve was so smart, he should have been marching toward the exit when the work slowed – it should have been obvious that the company was merely reacting to success and downturns both. Not a great plan for success in the future for the company. And Steve was most probably aware of his people shortcomings. Part of his abrasiveness may have been contempt for management and supervision to provide leadership.
ME Strauss says
Great to see you. Another great analysis!
Though my sense of it was that Steve was a manager and a team leader. So he should have been raised to a slightly higher standard . . . don’t you think?
On the idea of his contempt, yeah, I think a lot of us have been there — I have. What I found is that, justified or not, it didn’t serve me. I would have been better off focusing on what they wanted or happy until I walked. 🙂
In the long run, people skills are the most important skills to develop.
It is possible that while Steve was very good at what he did, his being a jerk may have had a bad effect and lowered the performance of many others.
ME Strauss says
You just reminded me of something I often say, Business is relationships and everyone’s business is relationships.
I agree. 🙂
Kirk M says
Now this is quite the discussion here and the kind of situation I’ve run across probably close to a half a dozen times. Other folks that have commented above (hi folks!) represent in one way or another every lunch room, lab and hallway conversations reflecting someone just like Steve. Personally and strangely enough I was worked with these types of co-workers, the interaction occurring when my department needed something from “Steve’s” department and no one else could get any cooperation.
I haven’t any idea why I often had success where others failed in talking to these types of folks because I was just as-if not more ornery than the Steve’s of the world. Perhaps it was my attitude of “Look…let’s agree to disagree and get on with it…”
In my experience though I have seen a bit of the reverse than the situation you put forth in your post. I often found that when a company was up and coming and struggling to stay viable enough to put out a (good) product that it was an “anything goes” attitude where the Steve’s would thrive. It was after the company became successful and started to grow that the usual business policies had to be put into place where the Steve’s began disappearing. In this I found that the Steve’s could not survive in a company that was going from struggling to first becoming successful and beginning to grow.
Seems like there’s to periods in a company’s life that the Steve’s can survive then. As they are “up and coming” and still struggling and when the company is at it’s peak.
Just another viewpoint here. Please excuse any6 grammar errors as it’s thundering like crazy and I have to shut down. 😀
ME Strauss says
You make a point worth taking note of — that there are times when we accept behaviors from people that we wouldn’t accept at other times. Just as we accept certain behaviors in certain places. It seems valid that we accept them under certain circumstances. That makes sense that a company starting out would want what Steve had to offer — aggressive wits and smarts for the growth of the company — and then need it less later when “more established behaviors” were expected. 🙂
When I first read the article I thought, “Yikes! I’m a Steve!” But then after reading all these comments, I don’t think I am (especially after reading your definition, Liz, of stellar vs. nice).
I tend to be honest and sometimes that honesty comes across as rude and very tactless, but I get things done in a timely, efficient manner, like Steve. I’m not purposefully mean, but I’m no good at hiding my opinions and feelings. I’m aware of it though, and I work at getting along with people, being sensitive to others and knowing when to say what and to whom I can say it.
ME Strauss says
Hi Lauren Marie!
Yeah, I know what you mean. Sometimes when I deep in a project I can get too far in my head and start dealing only with facts. One thing I’ve found out, though, is that if I forget that people are involved . . . they will remind me that they are people. 🙂