Leadership Dilemma: When Your Most Difficult Employee is Great for Business


What do you do with a difficult employee who brings in a lot of money?


I recently had a conversation with a small business owner about this. It echoed countless conversations I’ve had before, including a few tough moments when I had to get real with myself.


This business owner’s conflict goes like this:


He has an employee who is an absolute superstar with estimating, creating a scope of work, and connecting with clients. So, you know… all the skills that lead to more business and more money for the company.


The problem is that this guy is seriously damaging company culture. He knows he’s a superstar, so he acts like one. He’s hard on others when they’re late, but he shows up whenever it suits him. He’s arrogant, critical, and difficult to work with.


But as any business owner can imagine, letting him go is a scary proposition. 


When you’re running a company, your financial goals are always top of mind. If you’ve got someone on your team who is consistently bringing in more business, you begin to see this person as key to your growth.


Your superstar employee can help you reach your annual goals… maybe even exceed them. 


And that doesn’t just mean more money for you. It means the ability to give raises or bonuses, the option to invest back into your company and employ more people, and the possibility of creating more opportunities for your family.


When you’re weighing your options, the dilemma doesn’t feel as simple as bigger profits versus a better work environment for your team. It seems way more complicated than that. 


But here’s the actual truth:


You will lose out financially if you prioritize superstar skills over company culture. Here’s why:

How the Self-Important Superstar Costs You in the Long Term


Your business is only as strong as your team… your entire team.


Some have a more obvious influence on your income, like the employee in the example of above. But even team members who directly generate business cannot win alone.


Every single person on your team influences the customer experience. If they hate their job or their coworkers, it will come out in their attitude, and that is what the client will remember.


The superstar may have gotten you the big job today, but what about your referrals? What about repeat business?


Long-term business growth also depends on your team’s ability to collaborate, innovate, and lift one another up. Trust me: they will not do any of this if there is tension and division.


Perhaps most importantly, your staff will see and understand the decision you are making, especially if they’ve brought your problem employee’s bad attitude to your attention. Your team will see that you’re choosing profit over their needs. 


In return, they’ll show up every day and do the bare minimum to collect their paychecks. As they improve their own skills, they’ll look for opportunities to bring those skills to a different team where they feel more valued.  


So what does this mean? Does this mean you have to settle for an adequate skill set? 


No. It just means you have to care more about the long term than immediate rewards.


How to Get the Best of Both Worlds


This is where it becomes absolutely essential that you nurture a growth mindset within yourself and you make that mindset central to your company culture.


The skills we have as tradespeople are highly specialized and valuable. But they can also be learned. 


It is much, much harder to teach an arrogant jerk how to support and inspire others on a shared mission. 


In the beginning, it was tough for me to put culture above money. When you clearly see a correlation between a recent hire and a massive boost in profits, firing that person feels like self-sabotage. 


But at this point, I’ve been in this business with my own incredible team long enough to see that the human beings who work with me are by far the most important asset 911 Restoration has. 


Not everyone on my team was at superstar level when I hired them. But they got there, and they got there because of their own incredible attitudes and the pre-established company culture. Their colleagues support them, show up for them, inspire them, and celebrate them. 


Now when we add to our team, our prospective hires immediately recognize 911 Restoration as a place of joy, energy, and growth. They see our Fresh Start philosophy reflected in everyone they meet. They imagine a great future for themselves here. 


And when we find that dream hire—the person who has both the superstar skill set and the incredible attitude—they want to work with us. 


Prioritizing culture is not the same thing as deprioritizing money.


It’s simply being wise enough to say, “The money will come when I put people first.”


Further Resources on This Topic


Blog Post: You’re Right: Your Employees Can Do Better. But They’re Not The Problem.


Free Video Course: Accelerating Business Growth


Created: 13th Aug 2021