MR SCOTT McGohan, chief of McGohan Brabender, has dealt with a destructive hero - a persona that once described him. The results are always blindingly good. That is why so many business owners are slow to recognise the dangers posed by employees sometimes known as destructive heroes.
At the building products company which Mr Dave Sullivan headed more than a decade ago, it was a top salesman who caused the havoc. "They're always high performers, otherwise you'd never put up with their behaviour," Mr Sullivan said. "This salesman was threatening his sales manager - 'If you don't do it the way I want, and if manufacturing won't make what I want to sell, I'll leave and take my customers with me.' "
Over the years, Mr Sullivan has retold this story often, as part of courses and training seminars he has taught. Now president and managing partner at the Shamrock Group, a management consulting firm in the US city of Denver, he does not claim to have coined the term, but he said it occurred to him when envisioning a comic book superhero who vanquishes an arch villain, and leaves a city in ruins in the process.
Also known as brilliant jerks, destructive heroes are egotists, prima donnas, anything but team players. The drain on company morale can be stark. Why isn't the boss dealing with such an obvious bad apple, people wonder. And because destructive heroes typically fashion their fiefs and achieve their results by intimidating co-workers, the abused colleagues may run for the exits.
In his training seminars, Mr Sullivan could count on two things whenever he asked: "How many of you have had a destructive hero in your midst?" About half of those in attendance would raise a hand. "And of those, almost 100 per cent said the same thing: 'We waited too long to deal with it, and it cost us a lot'," he added.
Mr Cliff Oxford, founder of the Oxford Centre for Entrepreneurs in Atlanta, said: "Get rid of the brilliant jerk as fast as you can." He has registered the URL www.brilliantjerk.com and is writing a book to help companies deal with such employees.
Mr Oxford and others suggest the following: Confront the destructive hero with his or her unacceptable behaviours; get agreement that specific changes are necessary; and set a deadline of several months to make and maintain the turnaround. Along the way, they advise, be sure to document the changes or lack of changes that ensue, that way establishing grounds for dismissal and protection against retaliatory lawsuits.
Of course, managing a destructive hero is easier said than done. "It got to the point," said the founder and president of an e-commerce crafts firm with 45 employees, "that we had people saying: 'I don't want to work when she's here.' Or, 'I love working here, but I'm going to quit because of my manager.' "
This company founder, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the career of her destructive hero began with a typical honeymoon period. "She started here picking and packaging orders and was phenomenal," she said. "Hardworking. Loyal. But as we started to grow, she kept telling me about problems with her manager. She'd text me at home at night."
The destructive hero essentially forced out her manager and assumed her role. And continued to behave badly. "She was a faster puller - the best person on customer service - and that was part of the problem," said the founder. "When a new employee wasn't as good as her, she'd get mad. If we hired someone she perceived as a threat, maybe someone smarter, maybe more attractive, friendlier, she was not nice to them and she'd complain about them to me."
It took the beleaguered boss nearly two years to resolve the situation. "I thought it was my fault she's not a good manager," she said. "I tried reading management books with her, not realising it was something intrinsic and could not be changed." Eventually, she moved her problem employee into an administrative position with less responsibility and increased the routine tasks until she quit.
But happy endings to destructive hero sagas are rare. "Teaching over 100 courses," Mr Sullivan said, "I've never had one person tell me they converted a destructive hero."