Leadership Dilemma: Self-Serving High Performing Team Member

Leadership Dilemma: Self-Serving Team Members

One of my customers, a strong leader, described this leadership dilemma to me:

A team member who produced results with the other team members had fallen very ill. Let’s call this team member “Reach”.

When the leader approached the team members for a show of empathy, cards, flowers, and other help for “Reach”, many team members quietly avoided the subject and some clearly declined.

Leadership Dilemma: Image is a skyscraper type structure.

Leadership Dilemma: Self-Serving High Performing Team Member Image by: ErickGonzalez50

Image by ErickGonzalez50 via Flickr Creative Commons License.

The concerned leader asked me to speak with the team members to learn more about the situation and what he had missed. He wanted to know how to lead better in the future. I agreed and asked the leader to think about his definition of teamwork.

Inside the Team Members’ Perspective

  1. Reach was well-known for saying things like: “Always associate with people better than you to achieve success.” The team members wondered who Reach was referring to? Meanwhile, they perceived Reach overlooking them while always looking up.

  2. Reach helped himself grow — he didn’t help others to grow. He was also well-known for saying, “people give and help because they want to. They shouldn’t expect anything in return.”

  3. Did they ever speak to the leader about Reach’s attitude? Two team members reported they had separately spoken to the leader who refocused the discussion on Reach’s work contribution and results. As they compared notes of the leader’s outlook — which they shared with the rest of the team — they all felt it was futile to raise the subject again with the leader.

  4. How had they been able to produce results with Reach while having these negative feelings? Interestingly, they had completely shut out personal feelings for Reach and focused only on results.

  5. When the leader approached them for empathy, cards, flowers and other help for Reach, they were shocked. They had accepted the leader’s results only focus and said they felt both confused and betrayed by his call for personal help for Reach. Neither Reach nor the leader had cared about them. They asked me: What is the leader’s definition of teamwork? Purely getting the job done or caring for and helping each other to get the job done?

I reported my findings to the leader (without identifying who said what). The leader was stunned to learn that the team members saw Reach as a self-serving opportunist. I asked the leader for his definition of teamwork? He told me he always believed that teamwork included caring and helping each other to grow.

When I asked him about results only focus regarding Reach, he confessed he didn’t know what else to say/do when the team members came to him about Reach’s attitude. He didn’t see himself as a psychologist. He faced a leadership dilemma and quickly fell back into a traditional results only focus.

Leadership Dilemma: People Skills Lessons Learned

    Results only focus has at least one benefit and one risk. The short term benefit is clear. The risk is blindness to plummeting morale that can affect future work results.
    Fear can mesmerize and stop a leader from growing. The team members had courageously approached the leader; the leader panicked in fear and took the easy way out — avoidance.
    Awareness and listening are critical leadership skills. Reach was well-known for saying things that this leader never caught. Even if Reach hadn’t said them in front of the leader, team members reported it to him. He then got stuck in his leadership dilemma.
    It isn’t enough for a leader to let the team define teamwork. The leader must contribute to the definition. The leader is part of the team. They all must live it. The leader’s expectations of teamwork are critical in difficult times. It replaces a leadership dilemma with shared definitions and successful actions.

What other lessons do you glean from this leadership dilemma?

What else stops leaders from addressing opportunistic team member behavior?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
Leadership Dilemma: Can You Spot Self-Serving Mavericks?
Teamwork Productivity: 21 Reasons People Can’t Automatically Get Along
Teamwork Persona: Are You Somone Others Want to Work With?
18 Things Respected Well Liked Leaders Consistently Do

©2016 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com for permission and guidelines. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.


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~Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

8 Responses to “Leadership Dilemma: Self-Serving High Performing Team Member”

  1. Martina says:

    Good post, Kate. You have raised an important issues about teamwork and stars.

    It is not a team if everyone isn’t pulling together in the same direction, and this includes the boss, leader or manager. It is not really a team if there is constant dissention in the ranks; and eventually something will have to give. It is the boss who defines success, as you have said, but that same boss must enforce and reinforce what it is.

    This boss, by not stepping up to correct the situation defines success in a way he does not mean to. He is encouraging a “dog-eat-dog” environment. People are always watching. They see much more by your actions than your words, what really matters.

    And that is something that leaders tend to overlook, I think. Everything you do and say will be interpreted by those people who look to you for guidance. So we must make choices about our behavior wisely. Reach and all the “others” are getting a clear message about what is valued.

    Reviews have to focus on all the areas that impact the specific job performance, as well as, how well you play with others. A 360 job performance would help quantify this. This can then be brought to the star’s attention and request for change can be made, with some reward and penalty built in.

    Ultimately these stars will move on. Their egos will quickly outgrow what they see as limitations to their future success, and they will leave the people they feel they “outclass” behind. And it would be great to be able to keep them, if they can be part of the team, because they are strong.


  2. Khalid says:


    Thanks for the usual creative posts 🙂

    I think it’s a natural thing that leaders favor propel who are more effective than the rest of the team but at the same time leaders has to be fair with others when it comes to that person’s negative attitude!

    The leader should be honest with others in the team about why he likes such talent in “reach” and try to encorage others to copy him but at the same time he should step in and correct any deviations from the overall respect among members within the team


  3. High-performance employees can be both a boon and a challenge for management; on one hand, who doesn’t want 10 more proactive people working for them? On the other, high-performance people will demand – rightfully so – to be compensated, either in terms of recognition, advancement or dollars.
    Keeping high-performance employees engaged and happy will be more important in 2012 than ever before, what with the economic environment we’re in. Balancing their happiness with the team’s, however, is a very important discussion to have.
    Very good post!

  4. Guy Farmer says:

    Great post Kate. It’s amazing how much more successful team building can be when the leader is self-aware enough to understand how his/her behavior affects himself and others. It’s always important for leaders to look not only at what they think is going on but also what other people think is going on.

  5. Kate,
    Wow this is something that happens so often. Leaders tend to dismiss certain things in the name of “results”. I won’t be as frank as I would like to in terms of what I think about that approach. But I will say that being a leader requires you to be strong and courageous. This requires you to address things that make you or others feel uncomfortable. This particular leader had the opportunity to show his willingness to support the team and not make certain allowances (that send the wrong message). This is one reason why “star performers” are not as popular behind closed doors. Accountability should not be flexible from person-to-person. Thanks for sharing this post!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Love your one-statement summary: “Accountability should not be flexible from person-to-person.” Dynamics between people matter and making allowances for some can tip the balance.

      … And you have left me wondering about what else you would like to say on this issue! 🙂

  6. Alli Polin says:

    Really interesting read, Kate. I’ve often seen top producers get a pass on people skills – internally. As long as they wowed the customer, that’s what mattered. Unfortunately, it was also a surefire way to lose top performers and future leaders.

    I strongly agree that leaders need to contribute to the definition of teamwork. They also need to model it and remember that while they may not be executing on the work day-to-day, they are very much still on the team. To step so far back that culture and caring are not in the leader’s view at all, only results, it’s a signifcant problem.

    Excellent piece! Will share!

    ~ Alli

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