Seven Employees that Drive Managers Crazy

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All successful managers learn how to shift their leadership style to work effectively with different types of employees. While most people fall within the “normal” range of behaviors (whatever that means!), some have characteristics that are rather extreme. When confronted with these behaviors, managers sometimes aren’t quite sure how to respond.

In this topic, we look at several types of employees that present specific management challenges, including Challengers, Clingers, Drama Queens, Loners, Power Grabbers, Space Cadets & Slackers.


How to Spot Them:   Slackers seem to fall into two categories: Obvious Loafers and Sneaky Slackers. Obvious Loafers are easy to identify. They can be found lingering in the break room, openly surfing the net, or parked in someone’s cubicle for a lengthy chat (which proves that slacking off can be contagious). Sneaky Slackers are harder to spot. They may find legitimate reasons to leave the office, then take time to run lengthy errands. Or to avoid tasks they don’t like, they spend unnecessary hours on work that they prefer. And they only web surf or make personal calls when no one is around. Both types often take excessive “mental health days”.

What’s Behind Their Behavior: Reasons for slacking off can vary. Some people simply never developed a strong work ethic, possibly because they lacked good role models. Others were constantly indulged as children and never made to take responsibility. Resentful slackers have a chip on their shoulder and are trying to get back at their employer. And some unmotivated employees are simply in the wrong field. They don’t like their job, so they have trouble bringing any energy to it.

Preferred Manager: Slackers love managers who leave them alone to do whatever they want. They prefer to have as little supervision as possible. They adore bosses who are afraid to address performance issues.

Developmental Challenges: Slackers need to grasp the basic concept that a paycheck represents an investment by their employer. The employer has the right to expect a certain return on that investment. Therefore, the employer “owns” the employee’s work time and reasonably expects that the time will be used for the employer’s benefit.

How the Manager Can Help: (1) Clearly define specific objectives for the employee to meet. (2) Set regular times for feedback and follow-up to insure that work is actually getting done. (3) Address unfinished projects or missed deadlines immediately. Insist that work be completed. (4) Insure that the employee observes scheduled work hours. (5) Be a regular presence in the work area so that you know what’s going on. (6) Make a clear connection between productivity and rewards with all employees. (7) Praise productivity, progress, and punctuality. (8) Address performance issues as soon as they arise. (9) If you sense that the employee is totally unsuited to the job, see if a more appropriate position is available.

What the Manager Should NOT Do: (1) Accept shoddy work or tolerate lame excuses. (2) Allow slackers to work at home or put them in remote locations. (3) “Reward” laziness by giving difficult tasks to someone else. (3) Put off discussing performance problems. (4) Give undeserved performance ratings.

Space Cadets

How to Spot Them: Space Cadets frequently seem to be thinking of something else. Regardless of the topic being discussed, they are usually on a different wavelength. They make seemingly off-the-wall comments in meetings and may start discussions in the middle of a thought. Others often aren’t sure how their comments relate to the subject at hand. They may come up with ideas that, at least on the surface, seem rather impractical. Space Cadets are usually genial people who have little interest in power or control.

What’s Behind Their Behavior: Space Cadets tend to be very abstract thinkers who are more focused on ideas and possibilities than on facts and action steps. Their thought processes are not linear, so their conversations and actions do not proceed in a step-by-step fashion. However, their talent lies in seeing associations and connections that others may miss. Because they don’t think like other people, their communications are sometimes confusing. They are usually more focused on the future than the present.

Preferred Manager: Space Cadets prefer managers who will listen to their ideas and appreciate their insights. They are also happiest with managers who do not force them to do mundane tasks, like filling out forms, and who leave them alone to follow their interests.

Developmental Challenges: To work effectively in most traditional organizations, Space Cadets must learn to focus and to communicate more clearly and concisely. They also need to develop a better tolerance for tasks that they don’t like to do. This means not putting off the more mundane activities that they tend to avoid. They tend to be most excited about the beginning of a project, so they must learn to follow through.

How the Manager Can Help: (1) Clearly define expectations in terms of results that must be accomplished. (2) Help the employee break down large projects into smaller implementation steps. (3) Set regular times for feedback and follow-up to insure that work is on track. (4) Explain why more mundane or tedious tasks are important. (5) Provide feedback to encourage more concise verbal and written communications. (6) Stress the importance of organized presentations. (7) Take time to understand the Space Cadet’s ideas, as they often have benefits that are not immediately apparent. (8) Pay attention when the Space Cadet brings up long-range concerns, because they often have an uncanny ability to anticipate the future. (9) Provide opportunities to be creative.

What the Manager Should NOT Do: (1) Let the Space Cadet work with no supervision. (2) Delegate projects without specific interim feedback points. (3) Stop listening because the employee’s comments are hard to follow.
4) Dismiss the employee as being an airhead.

Power Grabbers

How to Spot Them: Power Grabbers tend to get into power struggles with their bosses. So they often act like they’re managing you, instead of the other way around. These are the folks who just naturally take over a meeting or quickly step into the lead role on a project. They like for people to know about their accomplishments, so titles, perks, and public recognition are important to them. Because they don’t like to be “managed’, they may resist direction or ignore your instructions. Their career goals always involve promotion.

What’s Behind Their Behavior: Power Grabbers have a high need for control and don’t want anyone else directing their actions. They are very status conscious and are motivated by competition and public recognition. They view life as a game where they are always playing to win. A strong fear of failure often lies behind this bravado.

Preferred Manager: Ironically, Power Grabbers prefer either wimpy bosses or high-powered managers. They like the fact that spineless supervisors allow them to do whatever they want and leave a power vacuum for them to fill. But powerful managers are the only people they really respect.

Developmental Challenges: For long-term success, Power Grabbers need to realize that their high need for control tends to alienate other people. The more obviously they strive for power, the less people are likely to trust them with it. They also need to recognize that involving and engaging others often improves both results and acceptance. They must learn to function as an effective member of the team, not just the leader.

How the Manager Can Help: (1) Define clear targets for success. (2) Identify the collaborative relationships that must be developed to reach these targets. (3) Include collaboration as a factor in performance appraisals. (4) Explain the specific reasons why involvement with others is important and how it will improve results. (5) Help Power Grabbers understand how their drive for control may actually interfere with their success. (6) Allow autonomy and independence, but set clear parameters and follow up regularly. (7) Recognize the Power Grabber’s leadership strengths and use them appropriately. (8) Provide public recognition for accomplishments. (9) Reward leadership maturity with leadership roles and provide leadership coaching.

What the Manager Should NOT Do: (1) Give up and give in under pressure. You must be comfortable using the authority of your position when necessary. (2) Get sucked into power struggles and useless debates. Know when to cut off the conversation and make a firm decision. (3) Avoid interaction because you fear confrontation. This will leave a power vacuum that the Power Grabber will happily fill. (4) Act like a wimp. Power Grabbers only respect people who are comfortable using power.


How to Spot Them: Loners are quite easy to spot. Just look for an employee who prefers to spend the day working on the computer and talking to no one, who never wants to attend conferences or workshops, and who eats lunch alone while reading the newspaper. Don’t bother to search for them in meetings, because they look for any excuse to duck out.

What’s Behind Their Behavior: People vary greatly in their desire for interaction with others, and Loners are at the far “low” end of that continuum. At work, their enjoyment comes from focusing on solitary pursuits in settings where they can concentrate and are seldom interrupted. They don’t dislike people – they just don’t find social interaction to be a very enjoyable activity.

Preferred Manager: Not surprisingly, Loners prefer managers who leave them alone. Once they understand what is expected, they will happily go off and tackle the task independently, not communicating with anyone until the work is done. They like managers who will let them do this.

Developmental Challenges: Loners need to understand that sharing information and including others in projects can actually improve results. They need to realize that, although they may be highly competent, there are ideas and perspectives that may never occur to them. They also need to learn that other people may interpret their task-oriented behavior as rude and unfriendly.

How the Manager Can Help: (1) Set clear expectations for necessary collaboration and communication with colleagues. Follow up to be sure that it happens. (2) Explain the specific reasons why this involvement with others is important and how it will improve results. Don’t assume that this is obvious. (3) When collaboration is expected, suggest possible approaches and agree on a strategy (group meeting, individual conversations). Otherwise, Loners will do it all through email. (4) Help Loners understand how their behavior may look to others. Just as they may view “friendly” behavior as “pushy”, others may see “independent” as “cold and unapproachable”. (5) Provide enough autonomy. Although they must learn to interact, Loners will do their best work alone.

What the Manager Should NOT Do: (1) Give in and allow Loners to shut out colleagues or avoid necessary meetings. (2) View the Loner as deviant or dysfunctional. There’s nothing wrong with preferring independent work. (3) Assume that Loners will enjoy social activities if they are forced to participate. They may reluctantly attend, but it will never be their idea of fun. (4) Ignore them because it’s easy.

Drama Queens (or Kings)

How to Spot Them: Drama queens thrive on excitement and attention, so spotting them is easy. You can hardly miss them! For Drama Queens, a calm, peaceful workday is just not very rewarding, so they try to spice things up with dramatic pronouncements, juicy gossip, ominous rumors, personal traumas, or emotional breakdowns. When talking with others, they are expressive and animated. You never have to ask how a Drama Queen is feeling, because you can tell simply by looking at them. More subdued coworkers find Drama Queens exhausting and try to avoid them. Managers can expect Drama Queen employees to drop by frequently to share their latest family crisis or coworker conflict.

What’s Behind Their Behavior: Many Drama Queens seem “hard-wired” to thrive on emotional stimulation, regardless of whether the emotions are positive or negative. When their work environment doesn’t provide enough excitement, they will try to create some. As one Drama Queen said to her husband, “We haven’t had a good fight in a long time!” For some Drama Queens, the goal is to get attention. These employees are actually rather insecure and only feel important when everyone is focused on them.

Preferred Manager: Drama Queens prefer managers who will spend time listening to their stories, sympathizing with their troubles, and getting involved in their crises.

Developmental Challenges: True Drama Queen behavior usually indicates an immature personality. For long-term success, these employees must learn to broaden their view of the world, direct their energy towards work-related goals, and contain their emotionality. Some Drama Queens get misdirected into the wrong profession and need to find work that better matches their personality.

How the Manager Can Help: (1) Work with the Drama Queen to agree on useful work-related goals. Identify tasks and projects that will make productive use of the Drama Queen’s high level of interpersonal energy. (2) Arrange regular meetings to discuss progress and challenges. Face-to-face interaction is much more effective than email in motivating these employees. (3) Be willing to spend some time (but not too much) engaging in conversation not directly related to work. Drama Queens love an audience for their stories. (4) Help the Drama Queen understand how excessive emotionality may turn off coworkers. Clearly define appropriate workplace behavior. (5) If the Drama Queen’s personality seems to be a dreadful match for the job, assist with or arrange for some career counseling.

What the Manager Should NOT Do: (1) Reward inappropriate behavior by listening to endless stories or responding to constant complaints. (2) Allow the Drama Queen to waste coworkers’ time with extended gossip or gripe sessions. (3) Give in to unreasonable or inappropriate requests simply to make the Drama Queen shut up.


How to Spot Them: Challengers are programmed to be oppositional. When presented with a proposal, suggestion, directive, or idea, they automatically point out flaws, obstacles, and potential problems. Challengers are not at all reluctant to disagree with the boss. In fact, they rather enjoy challenging management, because they feel it establishes their independence. They resent authority and never show respect just because the person has a title. Challengers relish debates and don’t care if their views are unpopular. In meetings, they often get into heated discussions with coworkers and adamantly hold to their positions. The Challenger’s focus is on winning the argument, not resolving the problem.

What’s Behind Their Behavior: Challengers have a high need for control. When they feel that others are attempting to constrain or direct their behavior, they become rebellious. Early in life, they may have learned to get their way by throwing tantrums or intimidating others. As adults, they have never adopted more mature or effective strategies. They view themselves as strong and independent.

Preferred Manager: Challengers prefer weak managers who easily back down in the face of opposition. They want to work for someone they can dominate. However, this is absolutely the worst type of manager for them to have.

Developmental Challenges: To develop and mature, Challengers need to understand that their rebellious behavior will eventually derail their career and prevent them from achieving their goals. They must learn to focus on long-range objectives and engage in collaborative problem-solving.

How the Manager Can Help: (1) Learn about the Challenger’s career goals. Point out how this behavior will interfere with accomplishing them. (2) Turn arguments into problem-solving discussions. Help the Challenger learn these skills. (3) Listen and respond positively when the Challenger presents views in an appropriate, non-confrontational manner. (4) Include the Challenger in projects where collaboration is required for success. Provide feedback during this process. (5) Help Challengers understand that while they see themselves as strong and independent, others may view them as difficult to work with or hard to manage.

What the Manager Should NOT Do: (1) Be intimidated by the Challenger’s forceful behavior. (2) Give in or change plans just because the Challenger is unhappy or insistent. (3) Get “hooked” into endless debates and arguments. When it’s time to end the discussion, just end it. (4) Allow the Challenger to hijack meetings by dominating the discussion.


How to Spot Them: The main characteristic of Clingers is dependence. They like clear instructions, ongoing communication, and frequent positive reinforcement. They tend to be uncomfortable making independent decisions, because they are afraid of doing the wrong thing. They will therefore ask for information and clarification until they feel completely certain about what is expected. Clingers are reluctant to express disagreement because they fear making others angry and losing their support. As a result, they sometimes withhold their opinions or harbor resentments that they never express. Because Clingers are loyal, conscientious, and eager to please, managers usually view them as reliable and helpful. But these employees will not realize their full potential unless the manager encourages independence.

What’s Behind Their Behavior: The Clinger’s main need is to feel safe, and they believe that safety can be attained through attachment to authority figures. Their primary emotional driver is fear: fear of making mistakes, fear of losing support, fear of disapproval, fear of being disliked.

Preferred Manager: Clingers want to work for a strong, friendly leader who offers consistent support and guidance. Frequent communication with the manager is very important to them.

Developmental Challenges: To develop and progress, Clingers need to become more confident of their abilities, more willing to express opinions, and more comfortable making decisions.

How the Manager Can Help: The manager needs to gradually increase the Clinger’s comfort with behaviors that feel unsafe. (1) Ask for the employee’s opinion and express appreciation when opinions are volunteered. Use their ideas when possible. (2) Be understanding about normal mistakes and stress that the goal is to learn from them. (3) Delegate decisions, but do so in small steps. Express appreciation when independent decisions are made. Gradually enlarge the scope of delegated tasks or projects.

What the Manager Should NOT Do: (1) Reinforce dependence by making all decisions. (2) Immediately criticize suggestions or opinions. (3) Take a “sink or swim” approach to new tasks or projects. (4) Go ballistic when mistakes are made. (5) Tolerate mistakes to avoid hurt feelings.