Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The July Leadership Development Round Table Challenge

It's round two of the Leadership Development Round Table Challenge! This month's challenge is being hosted by lasts month's winner, Art Petty, over at his Management Excellence blog.

Each month the Round Table members (a group of esteemed leadership development bloggers) take turns laying out a challenge, often from our own real-life case files, and challenge each other to come up with the "best" answer.

How do we know it's the best? You, the reader, gets to vote and pick which answer you think is the best.

Here's the challenge from Art:

The Set-Up:

A case in a widely read publication once used the label, “Brilliant Problem-Child” (BPC) to describe the high-potential/high-performance employee who manages to tick everyone off while stomping on toes in pursuit of results. Certainly, our culture is filled with descriptions of leaders who are “less than nice” in the workplace, however, the situation gets complicated if your name isn’t Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison and if you’re operating somewhere in the middle layers of an organization.

Just about everyone knows or has worked around someone like our character, Joe, below, and if you’ve been Joe’s manager, you’ve dealt with the dilemma of “What price, brilliance?” From “results at any cost,” to “why can’t we all get along?” there are a myriad of approaches with varying costs to teams, environment and careers.

Here’s a chance to help Joe’s manager, Pat, (finally) get this one right.

The Situation:

Pat Paulsen, the Director of Product Management for Apex Inc., sat for a few moments and stared out the window after the project team left her office. She was disappointed that her employee, Joe, was once again, the topic of discussion and complaint.

Apparently, Joe had yet again stomped on some toes and bruised some egos on the project team. He had shared his disdain for what he viewed as a slow and overly bureaucratic process to gain approval for the feature specifications for the next version of Apex’s flagship product. When the project team resisted his efforts to ram through the specifications, Joe had used his considerable pull with the overseas head of engineering to bypass the team completely. His response to the protests from team members was, “I’ll get this done with or without you.”


Joe was a widely acknowledged brilliant product manager who had worked hard since the business unit’s inception 7 years ago to translate customer needs into product ideas and programs that solved problems and kept competitors off-balance and chasing Apex.

Additionally, customers and industry partners respected Joe’s industry knowledge and his zeal for supplying them with products that helped them run their businesses more effectively. They even overlooked his propensity to tell them how to run parts of their business, because he was most often right. “One partner summed it up best, “Joe has a horrible bedside manner, but he knows his stuff.”

Pat and Joe

Pat, as Joe’s manager, had been on the receiving end of a number of these types of complaints over the years. The conversations typically started with, “I know Joe is brilliant, but… .” The group that just left her office didn’t include any references to “brilliant” this time.

Pat genuinely believed that she had gone beyond the call of duty trying to remedy the problem and support Joe’s development. In addition to documenting, discussing and offering ample feedback and guidance over the past few years, Pat had invested in Joe attending several workshops on improving interpersonal skills. And just last year, Pat, with her superior’s blessing, had invested in sending Joe off to the prestigious Institute for Leadership Excellence, for some focused and very expensive coaching.

Perhaps the most perplexing part of the situation was that Joe seemed to genuinely take the feedback and coaching to heart. He worked hard on modifying his behavior after receiving feedback, but eventually he would become frustrated when project team members or groups ignored his guidance or moved too slowly on an issue that he viewed as critical.

The Environment:

The values at Apex were clearly posted in every conference room and they clearly implored people to “Break Down Walls,” “Challenge the Status Quo” and “Serve Customers First.” Taken literally, Joe’s behavior matched those values perfectly. He did do great things for the firm, and he was a thorn in everyone’s side in the process.

The success of the business unit over the past few years (much of which was due to Joe’s products), had led to a significant shift in the internal culture, from one fueled by entrepreneurial zeal to one that was building processes and relying more on teams. It was clearly a different environment and one where Joe’s approach was increasingly in conflict with the emerging culture.

What Next?

at shuddered to think what life would be like without Joe’s knowledge and expertise helping the company specify and launch great products. She pushed the momentary vision of him wearing a competitor’s badge at the upcoming industry trade show out of her mind.

Pat had no doubt about Joe’s brilliance, but it was clear that his approach engaging with others had more than worn thin. She sighed and pondered what to do next.

Help Pat. What should Pat do given the history and circumstances described in the case?

You'll have to go to Art's blog to see the answers from myself, Art Petty, Scott Eblin, Jennifer Miller, Steve Roesler, and this month's guest, The HR Bartender, Sharlyn Lauby. Then, vote for your favorite answer! Also, please add your own comment - we'd like to hear why you voted, as well as your own answers.

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