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Keep Workplace Divas Out of Your Startup

The startup world attracts a lot of strong personalities; some good, some bad. Workplace divas are a type to avoid. A workplace diva craves the spotlight and loves to create drama. Perhaps the best known workplace diva is the fictional Michael Scott, a paper company manager on NBC’s comedy series The Office. Scott creates crazy schemes to get attention. Meanwhile, important work does not get done.

While Scott’s antics are entertaining, having a diva as part of your startup will undermine it. People in a large company might be able to avoid a diva and get their work done, but there is nowhere to hide in a startup. Moreover, everyone in a startup needs to be pulling in the same direction and to be supportive of each other.

To help entrepreneurs recognize – and avoid – workplace divas, my friend Mike Buckley and I identified seven main diva behaviors by surveying working professionals. Our survey respondents provided the quotes below.

Attention seeking. One person told us she works with a diva who “will take something that I have said or done and exaggerate and embellish it to make what I have done or said controversial. She then will tell anyone and everyone of my supposed controversial action. It has happened many times that she has fabricated things about me. She thrives on conflict. If there is none, she will create conflict.”

Temperamental. “In one recent exchange, this person sighed and put her head in her hands, squeezing her head to the point where her face turned red. I thought she might explode.’’

Blame avoidance. One diva “would make presentations to executives and throw other individuals ‘under the bus’ when he was asked difficult questions or put on the spot for not delivering.’’

Lack of perspective. Many divas seem to have no self-awareness. “The diva has a problem with ‘fairness.’ Fairness – according to him – is when he gets everything everyone else gets. The problem is that he does not deserve the stuff he receives, because he does nothing to earn it.’’

Overly demanding. Setting high expectations is good, but divas go too far. “He says that he is expected to be perfect and he expects his staff to be perfect.”

Self-importance. A diva described in our survey “expects people to worship her and her interests. Some examples of her bad behavior are answering personal phone calls, texts, and e-mails in meetings. Other people, however, must not even take a phone out of their pocket.”

Self-promoting. One person described a diva who “always seemed to want to ‘steal the show’ when it came to projects started and sponsored by other associates. A classic maneuver was to let the project build and show signs of great potential, and then steal the sponsorship to put his name on it to gain the recognition.”

Chances are that you have behaved badly at one time or another. Most of us have. But you have a problem if you are teaming up with someone that consistently displays several of the behaviors listed above. A drama king or queen can ruin your startup’s culture and may even doom it to fail if not removed.


This article is based on Ketchen, D.J. & Buckley, M. 2010. Divas at work: Dealing with drama kings and queens in organizations. Business Horizons, 53, 599-606.