According to Wikipedia, prima donna “has become a mainstream word outside opera to often describe a vain, undisciplined, egotistical, obnoxious or temperamental person who finds it difficult to work under direction or as part of a team but whose contributions are essential to the success of a team.”
The most challenging part of this definition is “whose contributions are essential to the success of the team.” If prima donnas were not so darned essential, they would have been fired and the people they work with wouldn’t have to suffer.
In my career, I’ve had the “good” fortune, more than once, to be appointed as sort of a clean up specialist for a prima donna. In one company, it was actually two of them at the same time.
Our boss, the business owner, installed me in an office directly between the two superstars. I was the neutral buffer zone, the communicator, the translator, and the person who cleaned up the collateral damage they caused to staff and to each other. A good share of my working day was spent talking with individual staff members who were insulted, demeaned or ignored by one or both of these guys. I just walked through the office every day looking for traces of blood, sweat and tears that needed attention.
At the time, I accepted the standard line that these revenue generators helped keep the rest of us employed, so we had to accept and work around their quirky behaviors. I’ve since come to understand that we were really just enablers of unacceptable, ineffective behavior.
For those of you who are part of a team that has it’s own resident prima donna, it can be challenging to monitor and sustain your own effective performance. It is also difficult to focus on the needs of the team, when you are distracted by the it’s-all-about-me antics and emotions of the self-centered, albeit talented ego in the room.
It is unfortunate that sometimes we enable the prima donna rather than honor and support their ability to step up their own game – and be responsible for their own behavior. In my experience, when confronted with the impact of his or her self-involved behavior, the prima donna will more consciously make adjustments.
If you are the prima donna on the team, you do care deeply about the success of the venture – your ego wants the recognition, if for no other reason. The team wants and believes in your talent AND they want to be recognized for the support they give you to create that success. Be responsible; monitor and manage your impact on others. Be more other centered, without filtering everything through your own ego needs.
It’s not always about me,