In every company, there are a few very fast rising executive stars with what I like to refer to as the ‘stallion syndrome.’ Why do I call them stallions? Well, they are people who are very impressive in appearance, very strong in performance results and very hard to manage. These stallions stand out from the crowd. They have extraordinary talents in a few critical areas that result in successfully reaching the number goals. They are driven, ambitious, fearless and cocky, and often disregard failures by not taking responsibility. The stallion usually makes or exceeds all of his numbers, drives followers to high levels of performance and innovates amazing concepts and products. Promotions come fast and the stallion moves up in the organization quickly.
But very often, stallions also have huge blind spots to their deficits.
It is almost as if a well-rounded executive must possess twenty different important traits with a passing grade in each area. These characteristics often include:
- Emotional maturity
- Quick intelligence
- Great instincts
- A team first loyalty
- Ability to articulate clearly
- Kindness, etc.
On the other hand, there is the stallion, which is extraordinary in three or four of these realms, but can be abysmal in many others. It is almost like God said: “If I give you an exceptional talent, it is a zero-sum character game and for every great trait, there is an offset of weak traits.” History has shown that extraordinary talent often comes with significant quirks.
Because the stallion is stroked for their numerical accomplishments, they are uninterested in working on their weak points. They tend to be extremely difficult to coach, and often are in denial that the weaknesses are important to correct, or worse yet, even exist.
Usually, the stallion can also be very self-promoting, egotistical and never feels adequately compensated for his extraordinary accomplishments. He has followers who love his strengths and can live with the weaknesses, because their team is winning. Sometimes, these followers are convinced to make their loyalty to the stallion paramount to their dedication to the organization.
On the other hand, the stallion’s relationships with peers are difficult, as his personality tends to be highly competitive. People who don’t work for him concentrate on the stallion’s weaknesses and really don’t want him to move up in the organization. These subordinates start working with peers to undermine the stallion.
Due to stallions’ insistent belief that they are under-compensated, they often begin destructive patterns. This can take the form of disloyalty to the organization, turning on the boss, or compensating themselves in other ways by breaking company rules, such as purchasing expensive meals and family vacations on the company accounts, having secretaries fetch their laundry or pick up their kids from school, indulging in $300 bottles of wine, etc. Soon, the stallion’s integrity comes into question by others, but his business performance numbers continue to exceed all expectations. Mentoring sessions with the stallion don’t seem to work for long. As soon as you start discussing their weaknesses, they are often offended and throw their under-appreciated accomplishments in your face. Sometimes a mentoring session can be beneficial, but in several weeks or months there is a regression, like a rubber band.
A leader must eventually make the difficult call as to whether or not the stallion’s performance is worth their destructive impact on the team and, eventually, the company. There is no right or wrong decision regarding when a leader must give up on such a person, except in areas of integrity and when there are repeated threats to leave.
Once a stallion proves to you that they do not know right from wrong because it is a low priority or ‘they deserve’ their own rules, the leader must cut the cord. If you do not, the whole company culture will read a double standard that reflects on the character of the leader. Further, that stallion can never be trusted in the future to be the ultimate leader because there is no one parenting his or her actions at the top of the corporate pyramid.
If a stallion threatens to leave the organization by ransom, you can only allow this to happen once or the trait will continue forever. It is critical that the ultimate leader say to the stallion, “If you threaten me this once, I’ll consider it, but if you threaten me twice, don’t let the screen door hit you in the a– as you leave.”
Stallions are needed in every organization, but there is a price to pay for their existence. Their presence will inevitably cost the leader energy, supervision and direct confrontation. If a stallion can be persuaded to recognize and understand their weaknesses, and then actually work on them, they are worth gold. If stallions are only in it for themselves and not the team, they ultimately will be destructive and worthless. There comes a time when that price is too high—a leader better get it right.
© 2017 Robert Uhler and THE UHLER GROUP. All rights reserved.