Beware the Toxic Superstar

A few months ago, I was doing leadership development in a critical access hospital. The CEO is a strong leader and fairly new to his role. He has a clear vision of where he wants to take the organization, and I honestly think he will make it happen.

Unfortunately, during one of our scheduled workshops, the CEO was out ill. During the session, one of the leaders in the group, “Dave,” was argumentative and disruptive. I could see by the expressions of the people around him that he was distracting them. During a break, I asked Dave if everything was okay, and he told me that the leaders aren’t the problem. The patients and staff are the problem. He went on to say that the staff have bad attitudes, and the patients are entitled and ungrateful. I asked a few more questions to gain understanding, but it was clear that if this is the behavior he models to his team, no wonder they have bad attitudes. I invited him to skip the second half of the workshop, but he said he wanted to attend. 

Although he was less disruptive, I was still troubled that a leader would be allowed to work in this organization and demonstrate these behaviors.

Recognizing the Toxic Superstar

The next day, I talked with the CEO about my observations of Dave. He listened and shared some history with me. As he talked, he realized he was making excuses. He stopped and said, “Oh my god, I am tolerating a toxic superstar.”

I was glad the CEO could see the issue and label it. That allowed us to discuss how he would handle the situation. Dave was clinically adept in a difficult-to-fill position, so the CEO had tolerated more than he should and finally recognized it. He also realized that the other leaders saw it all, too. I reminded him that every day that he tolerated Dave’s bad behavior, especially in front of the rest of the staff, he was eroding his own credibility. 

Improving Culture Starts at the Top

The CEO started coaching Dave that day. Fortunately, Dave wanted to keep his job and was coachable, so this story has a happy ending. Dave kept his job and improved his attitude, and the CEO kept a watchful eye out for toxic superstars.

Are you tolerating toxic superstars? Remember, what you permit, you promote.

Let Baird Group help you evaluate and intentionally design your company culture. Contact us today to learn how to get started, or schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation here.

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