Basic tips for dealing with
Talented but Difficult Employees

If you want to be ‘the man’ or be the ‘big cheese’ in the organisation then, you know very well, that your first challenge is going to be to successfully oversee many different types of people. Some of them will be a blessing to manage and others… well others, let’s just leave at “challenging” as we don’t want to be quoted… in case your team is reading this article.

But what all managers will probably agree on, is that the type of personality that most of us find difficult to manage are the ones of the talented employees. Yes, they do often contribute the greatest success to the company and do so at times in an extraordinary way and heaven knows what we would do without them. But on the other side, (generally speaking here of course, as there are always exceptions), talented employees respond rather poorly to traditional management styles. To put it another way, they are simply not that keen to be managed in the same or similar way as their work peers.

Regardless of how many stars of battle you’ve got on your lapel, your leadership style or even the working culture of your organisation, there isn’t always a crystal-clear ‘one shoe fits all’ solution to managing talented but challenging employees.

I think I am not discovering any new planet with water on it when I say that, given the enormous mobility of job candidates in the millennium we live, to have an expert understanding of how to nurture this type of employee is absolutely key. Because, you know that if you lose them to your competitors, it’s going to be a long hard road ahead until you find their replacement, if you can that is.


If we go back to 2004 to the study on the motivation of talented people carried out by Galpin and Skinner, you may recall some very good insights into what is important for talented employees. As a reminder, because it was some time ago now, their study concluded the following:

  • They mostly have a particularly strong desire to be in a position of authority and control.
  • Their main concerns are about working to the best of their ability and making efforts to master new skills.
  • They are more motivated by competition with themselves than by competition with others.
  • They are no more motivated by the desire for material and financial rewards than the general population.

Furthermore, there are six common characteristics talented people have that make them difficult to manage. These can include one or more of the following:

  1. They know what they’re worth to the organisation.
  2. They are organisationally and politically savvy.
  3. They have a lot less respect for hierarchy.
  4. They are demanding and often expect instant access to management and the resources they need.
  5. They network well and while this is of value to the organisation, it also allows them to move on easily if they are not happy and motivated at work.
  6. They do not see any need for a manager and this is the exact reason why managing them is so hard.


Oh, I know what’s coming… And you can wipe that grin off your face, I know you are going to hit me with it right? …

So how can you manage someone who doesn’t want to be managed and who doesn’t really see any need for you in any given day?

I think most of us, through experience, already know the answer to this and that is it is key for us to understand what these talented employees are really looking for from their work. Our talented team members have to be managed in a way that is going to allow them to feel a certain level of independence, almost feeling special. If you are there to push them in an evident way, most likely you will drive them away.

They respond best to the coaching management style rather than dictatorial style and as their manager, we are better off accepting our role as benevolent guardians, and leave the authoritarian boss coat hanging elsewhere. It is what it is, and if you are not comfortable with accepting the role, then you need to be prepared for an ongoing process of replacing your best talent more often that you will want.

This is not to say that you should bow down to their every whim but to take an analogy from sport, the best captains who get the most out off all of their players are the captains you don’t even notice.


Do you have in your organisation a stimulating environment for these talented employees? Are you able to provide them with chances to experiment and learn even if sometimes they fail?

If your answer is going to be “not really” well… you are up the creek without a paddle, because that is the habitat they need. You’ve got to be on the active lookout for opportunities and ways to place your talented employees in positions where new capabilities are required. And here’s how you do it.

  1. Make sure you provide them with a higher challenge and a supportive environment and they will become champions and thrive next to you.
  2. Hand them the chance of taking further responsibilities on projects or tasks by means of effective delegation in aspects they feel are important.
  3. Include them in strategic planning and highlight the importance of their role in the success of achieving those plans.

Yes, it’s true; you will have to give them clear goals, specific targets and perhaps sample standards but once you do, giving them the freedom to do it on their own will help prevent you from mismanaging them.

If you manage them in this way, with the right level of recognition and reward, most probably but without guarantees, your talented people will become easier for you to manage. When that is achieved, they will deliver even greater value to your business and stay with you for a greater length of time. And what a relieve that is! The problem is when you have less talented (to put it nicely of course) employees, that think they should be managed in the same way as their talented colleagues… Oh dear, oh dear..! But that is another battle and another story, perhaps for another time..

This post was written by Tomas Cides Jimenez, Managing Director at People Place.

Tomas joined the Group in 2007 as a Senior Recruitment Consultant, and has been successfully working his way up to his current position. Becoming responsible for entire business operations within Central Europe and Western Europe. Working closely with managers at all levels in the clients’ portfolio to ensure the business delivery and client satisfaction is always at highest standards. To follow Toma’s blogging articles you can subscribe by clicking the box on your right or register with us.  Or why not connecting with Tomas on FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn. 

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