Talent vs Attitude: Why the former does not excuse the latter.

A few years ago, a good friend and former colleague of mine was working with a guy who was a tech genius. Whatever crazy tech idea she could come up with, he always managed to make it happen. She had huge appreciation for his talent.


However, as much as she appreciated his talent, she didn't appreciate his behaviour.


The chap in question - let's call him 'Paul' - caused havoc with every other human he came into contact with. He seemed to take pride in creating turmoil, chaos, and confusion. He chewed his way through several direct reports (they lasted six months at the most), too many external agencies, and significant financial resources. Colleagues dreaded having to interact with him because they knew it was going to be a series of heated negotiations, rapid-fire interrogations, and vague direction. With Paul, nothing was easy.


Despite this, my friend - who happens to be an amazing leader - felt for the guy. Why? Because despite her feedback to him, and despite her speaking with his first-line manager (FLM) on numerous occasions, the guy received no direct input from anyone else. People complained behind his back and his FLM actually became defensive and told her to back off saying, "Yes his attitude sucks, but he gets shit done!" That was it. Loosely translated, this meant that Paul could behave in any manner he saw fit because he was talented.


This is not the first (or the last) time I've seen this: Where leaders allow employees to behave appallingly because they're talented.


But here's the thing: There's a price to be paid for ignoring poor behaviour and attitude.

Ignoring it becomes the very thing that thwarts the success of the individual, the team and, ultimately, leaders themselves.


People aren't blind; nor are they stupid. They see what's going on. They see the inappropriate behaviour being ignored, explained, or excused. They see the leader playing [what is perceived as] favourites, and they reach a point where they wonder why the heck they're bothering to put in any effort at all. Eventually they throw in the towel or leave. Either way, team performance deteriorates at an alarming rate. And all because the leader failed to deal with one person's behaviour.


Like good intentions, talent does not excuse poor attitude and inappropriate behaviour.


To be successful, you need talent. To be really successful, you need to become a soft skill genius. Talent will get you so far, but to it's being able to play nicely with others that will get you further.


You already know poor behaviour and attitude needs to be addressed. You already know that ignoring it in the hope it stops is nothing more than your not wanting to deal with it. So next time 'the conversation' needs to be had, consider the consequences of not having it. Consider the end-point you're creating by letting the behaviour go.


Is it easy to hold up a mirror to someone and reflect someone's poor behaviour back at them? No: It's hard. And uncomfortable. And unpleasant. But as a leader, it's your job! Think of it this way: How are you helping by allowing poor behaviour and attitude to continue? By choosing not to address it, you're choosing to hobble the performance of the individual, your team, yourself, and your organization. By ignoring poor behaviour, you're not being nice, or tolerant, or supportive. You're failing to lead. And sooner or later - usually sooner - that's going to catch up to you.


By choosing to address poor behaviour, you're choosing to care enough to take the route that's most difficult for you, and most beneficial for others. You're choosing to lead.


So do the right thing: Be brave and deal with it. It might be uncomfortable, it might be unpleasant, and it may lead to more than just a conversation: But it's your job. Because ultimately, your thirty minutes of intense discomfort could save someone's success and career: Including your own.



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