Classic: The Diva

Diva leaders expect the company to revolve around them, rather than accepting the commonly held viewpoint that employees are there to serve the interests of the firm's stakeholders.  Divas come in a wide variety of forms -- from the high profile community pillar, to the news hog, to the your-life-is-to-serve-me egomaniac, to the budding corporate politician.  Diva predilections seem to heighten as a leader approaches the pinnacle job within their organization, that of the CEO.  Despite the wide variety of Divas, they do share a few common characteristics:

  • Divas normally focus on “what's in it for me” rather than “how do we all win.”
  • Divas often neglect internal relationships in favor of external ones, particularly those that they believe can deliver something of value like new connections, increased fame, or even just some top-shelf ego-stroking.
  • Divas think their employees should feel honored to work for them, and often expect subordinates to bend to their every whim and/or treat them like royalty.
  • Divas often (but not always) surround themselves with sycophants.
  • Divas generally don't run the organization.  They are the outward face, and need to be paired with a capable inside manager to make things function properly.  When the Diva is a CEO, the inside manager is usually either the COO or the CFO.

Why does the Diva leader behave the way he does?  It's difficult to know for sure what is going on inside a Diva's head, but I’ve theorized that somewhere deep inside is a belief they don't deserve the success they’ve achieved.  Diva behaviors seem to be specifically designed to produce a constant stream of validation from internal and external sources.  This validation pacifies any doubts about their worthiness.

Of course, some Divas may simply love the attention and fame/fortune attainable as a business leader, and they engage in a constant stream of self-promotion as a way to further increase that attention.

Employees quickly learn that raising praise for their boss's brilliance, rather than anything remotely resembling criticism, is an important survival tactic.  Some employees will be confused into thinking that the figurehead, the person who is only superficially involved in the day-to-day operation of the business, actually runs things.  Most will eventually figure out it's the inside manager that actually makes the company and perform.

The occasional, surreptitiously-delivered eye roll will accompany some of the more outlandish stunts or statements of the Diva, but but real critiques will be sparse as they aren’t well tolerated.  Divas generally do not do well motivating employees over the long term, as their actions and statements almost always seem to have a self-serving undercurrent.  Some are gifted speakers, however, and can successfully “rally the troops” at critical moments.

 This is the cover of LEVERAGE, the first book in the Carson/Chin Series.  Click the image for more info.

This is the cover of LEVERAGE, the first book in the Carson/Chin Series.  Click the image for more info.

If your employer has a “celebrity” CEO that spends most of her time sitting on other boards, is disengaged from day-to-day operations, and can’t seem to take criticism, chances are good that you’re dealing with a Diva.

Given all the damage that can be caused by some of the extreme types of leadership, Divas are relatively harmless.  They normally stay out of the way of the organization’s achievers and top performers, and tend to leave the daily management task to others better suited to handle them.  As long as the key inside manager is not an extreme leader as well, the company can often tolerate the Diva for an extended period of time.

When the Diva CEO does fail, it is usually because of some external faux pas, such as a foolish statement made to the media or some kind of outlandishly selfish behavior that becomes public knowledge.  If the Diva is fired, the organization usually gives a collective sigh of relief and then marches on, barely missing a beat.  You can bet, however, that all the company insiders are hoping the next CEO isn’t cut from the same cloth.

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This is the cover of my latest novel, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, released in April, 2014.  This story marks the return of LEVERAGE characters Mark Carson and Cathy Chin, now going by the name of Matt and Sandy Lively and on the run from the FBI.  The pair are working for a remote British Columbia lodge specializing in Corporate adventure/retreats for senior executives.  When the Redhouse Consulting retreat goes horribly wrong, Matt finds himself pursuing kidnappers through the wilderness, while Sandy simultaneously tries to fend off an inquisitive police detective and an aggressive lodge owner.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.