Dealing with Toxic A-Players

We all have our ups and downs, good days and bad. Sometimes, due to lack of sleep, worries or pressures, we are not at our best when interacting with others.

However, there are individuals – under performers and high performers – who consistently display toxic behavior, cause frustration among their peers, disrupt team dynamics and are detrimental to the overall culture.

Toxic A players (as I call them in my book Your Oxygen Mask First) perform exactly how we want, at a high level, but their behavior is exactly what we don’t want.

Unfortunately, leaders often turn a blind eye. They fear that letting go of these Toxic A-Players could result in revenue loss, alienation of important customers, or leadership gaps that may burden them with additional work. However, if these people who don’t fit within your culture, continue to frustrate colleagues, and potentially drive them away, the consequences will inevitably catch up with the organization. In hindsight, leaders often regret not dealing with these individuals sooner.

Such fears usually make the negative impact seem bigger than it actually will be. The cost to the team is too high to allow the situation to fester and, in the long term, your team will appreciate your efforts to relieve their stress and frustration.

As a good leader, it is crucial to provide Toxic A-Players with a fair chance to correct their behavior. Give them an opportunity to become aware of the problem and align with the team. It is possible that nobody has told them the extent to which their behavior is not acceptable and has a negative impact on the company. They deserve a chance to improve.

Sometimes, you need to make the decision that they are not with you, long-term, and find a way out that’s appropriate for the business and respectful for them.

Whatever you do, taking action is imperative:

    • Involve your HR person to make sure you proceed appropriately, based on your responsibilities as an employer
    • Map out a written, specific performance plan to confirm what needs to happen and by when, and the feedback the person needs to hear
    • Set a time to review and share the feedback with them
    • If they don’t report to you, arrange for the person’s manager map out the plan and provide the feedback the person needs to hear. Verify the documented action plan to make sure the person is given a fair shake.

The Challenge:

    • Identify any Toxic A-Players within your organization who require some form of action.
    • Ensure that these individuals receive a clear message about what they need to do to be both productive and a great fit with your culture.

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