For many years, I sat in rooms with hiring managers and decision-makers looking at names of candidates on white boards and listening as leaders and interviewers went to bat for some and cut their losses with others. I facilitated and interjected with context and commentary on how those candidates were behaving outside of the interview room.
Some candidates from top universities with top GPAs and excellent internships and accolades could walk up to a whiteboard and confidently solve the challenging problems presented to them. Their interviewers and managers would be drooling. Outside the interview room, some extended their elevated ego into how they engaged with others. Some were rude to our receptionist, dismissive to other candidates, or condescending to those managing their logistics, so I spoke up. I shared how this person may have incredible talent and intelligence, but it’s not worth it to bring them on board if they can’t see beyond themselves and collaborate, demonstrate humility, or be open to other people’s approaches. If these candidates were brazen in their self-idolization and rude to others, yet could solve the most challenging problems, I said, “No, don’t do it”. Imagine the impact of this behavior with customers, partners, teammates, and as a future leader.
After 25 years in the people space, it still amazes me that many with bad behavior slip through the cracks at all levels. You recognize them as those who are rigid, combative, self-focused, have no filter, do not demonstrate compassion or empathy, throw a fit when something doesn’t go their way, and are aggressive to those that challenge their approach or who don’t bend to their will. The tricky sceanarios are high performers who demonstrate bad behavior, yet gain attention and accolades and are promoted for their results without consideration for the wake of destruction in their path. They can become masterful at performing their way out of accountability for their behavior because they redirect attention to their accomplishments. Intelligence and specialized skills are absolutely valuable, but I would stress, how someone engages with others, collaborates, and shows up is as, or more, important.
Unfortunately, most of you reading this have experienced or are experiencing this behavior. Maybe there wasn’t someone like me "in the room" to bring awareness to the impact the individual's entitlement could have or perhaps they exhausted everyone in their path who tried. These people can be cancer in an organization that, if left unaddressed, breed the proliferation of bad behavior, thereby changing the values and culture that made the organization who it is and claims to be. Navigating this behavior requires skill and intentionality, but it's absolutely possible.
If you are interviewing, managing, or collaborating with individuals like this, be courageous and say what you see while demonstrating what you don’t see. Share that they will not reach their goals on their own and that they are holding themselves back from actually being and doing their best and, in many cases, sabotaging opportunities, relationships, and their image. Be curious about what is important to them to understand their motivation and be the example of what good behavior looks like. If they are willing, you could be the catalyst for their awareness and desire to be and do better. If they are not willing, direct your attention elsewhere.
Yes, it takes energy and yes, it’s tough, but it’s so important for that individual’s awareness and growth and critical to protecting the integrity and well-being of your team and the organization. When we look the other way or ignore what is blatantly not ok, we are empowering these individuals to do more damage.
Find a better candidate. Set expectations of behavior attached to outcomes and manage your employees to them. If you report to them, find a mentor and support outside of your organization. Be courageous and clear in saying what you see and demonstrating the behavior you want to see. Set boundaries and create options and opportunities to engage support. If you have the emotional intelligence to see bad behavior in yourself, ask someone you trust for truthful feedback and support to learn how to demonstrate better productive behavior going forward.