The Diva Quandary: Earning Entitlement

We all love a good Diva. Well we do when it involves VH1, People, Star, and Reality Rehab Shows. But in the workplace? I think not. As it turns out – and I know you all can attest to this - corporate America is a veritable breeding ground for Divas. While the term originates from a feminine derivation of “god“, it has universally come to be used disparagingly for someone who acts overly entitled…male or female.  Sound familiar?

We all have to deal with big shots at work. We depend upon them to make rain, to wow our clients, to come up with the next big thing, to dazzle us with their ingenuity and creativity. And, like it or not, these big shots typically have a lot to do with our success. But does that entitle them to special treatment or dispensation? I’m not talking about policies, safety, or law. The Walls of Shame are lined with big shots who broke the law, got caught, and are now either in jail or dead (by their own hand) as a result. I’m talking about the simple, yet presumably important stuff…stuff that forms our environment. Do they get away with blatant incivility because they’re “just too important to the company?” Are they afforded the occasional yelling, screaming, and scratching fit because that’s “just the way they are?” For fear of alienating your most important asset(s), could you conceivably put a big shot on a Performance Improvement Plan for an undesirable behavior if (s)he were also producing at that game-changer level? Really?

There is a school of HR pros out there that will live and die by the sword of justice – one for all and all for one – when it comes to dealing with Divas. They will attempt to treat them no differently than any one else. Noble for sure. There is a smaller school that says let a Diva have it their way; the benefit, after all, outweighs the risk. Honestly, I’m not sure where I went to school on this one. It’s admittedly not black or white. But I believe there is at least some level of entitlement that can be earned in the workplace. And I’m not so sure HR necessarily gets to draw the line on how much entitlement will be endured. I think we need to get comfortable with that fact that ‘fairness’ does not mean ‘equality’…especially when dealing with people who are arguably essential to your organization’s success (and your job).

Check Out Fistful of Talent for Another Perspective – When Exceptions Should NOT be Made <== And I Agree!

  • Brian


    Here’s my comment. the concern isn’t the Diva, is it? In my experience, it’s the Diva-wannabes – those who aspire to be the Diva, see the slack given, and ‘assume the position’ by flaunting the rules, and the process, etc. Managing for the stress of a Diva I can handle, listening to the carping by the wannabes who want to take the short cuts, but haven’t earned the status is the bigger, broader, more insiduous challenge, isn’t it?

    Good post – though! Interested in how others handle this issue, particularly in the pro svcs arena, where Diva-ship ranks high.

  • Kelley

    As always, a thought provoking post. My organization certainly has its share of divas that make HR’s job challenging (rightfully or not) It makes me think back to Ben Eubank’s (love him!) guest post, though. In most cases those divas are the “difficult” people that we have to deal with. If we have to suck it up and live with them becuase of the value they bring to the organization, then by all means, give me a meaningful course on how to effectively do that.

  • John Hunter

    I completely agree fairness does not equate to equality. That oversimplification does great harm. Diva obviously has a negative connotation, but providing a different environment to let different people flourish makes sense. Tony Hsieh seems to be very successful having a cube for an office. But it makes perfect sense to me that a cube is not a great workspace for many CEOs (another term that also has a negative connotation for many :-) .

    Now paying for 5 castles for your CEO is just dumb in my opinion. Don’t let diva CEO’s just raid your treasury.
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