Prima donnas redux

Apparently, my declaration that the 'prima donna' era has come to an end was a bit premature by some standards. The prima donna appears to be alive and kicking, and has a number of defenders.

          Apparently, my declaration that the "prima donna" era has come to an end (No more prima donnas) was a bit premature by some standards. The prima donna appears to be alive and kicking, and has a number of defenders.

          One reader took my distaste for prima donnas to mean that I really wanted to silence dissent in the teams I manage: "Workers are not mindless drones who do your bidding and turn their brains off when they arrive at work," the reader wrote.

          Another reader decided that either I was a prima donna myself, didn't know how to manage prima donnas, or had a deep-seated jealousy of Bill Gates' success: "Comments about prima donnas are usually made by those who do not have enough talent to channel the prima donnas' drive and talent, or by those who envy prima donnas, or by those who are themselves prima donnas. Microsoft is full of prima donnas. I guess Bill Gates could be termed the head prima donna. This does not appear to hurt their bottom line -- you can only dream about doing that good [sic]."

          In that moral universe, the bottom line is all that matters and the personal behaviour you employ to get there is irrelevant. In my opinion, this attitude is the hallmark of the prima donna and is precisely why I won't be hiring any prima donnas anytime soon, despite the dissenting comments from readers.

          To review, in my previous column, my description of the tech prima donna concluded with this sentence: "Their arrogance knows no bounds, and even repeated and deliberate rudeness is justified by an inflated sense of self-importance."

          C'mon people, you mean "repeated and deliberate rudeness" is an acceptable part of doing business in today's technology world? Are these qualities required and even desired to move things forward? I beg to differ. For the most part, readers who challenged my dismissal of prima donnas suggested that businesses need prima donnas. These readers see prima donnas as talented, passionate, and highly skilled people who can cut through organisational clutter and make things happen.

          I agree these are good qualities to have in your staff, and I look for them myself. Still, in this economy, it's an employer's market and I can find plenty of top-tier people who provide high value to the company without the childish attitude. I pity those who think one of the requirements of a challenging and productive IT environment is accommodating behaviour befitting a three-year-old. You just don't need to deal with it.

          One reader agreed and lamented his company's past unwillingness to act quickly to rid itself of prima donnas: "In the end, we decided against being held hostage and cut these people loose, a decision I have consistently looked back on, thinking, 'What took us so long?' The era of engineer as rock star is over."

          In my opinion, it all boils down to the same messages that you see parents giving their children in the grocery store: Say "please" and "thank you," don't hit people, and be considerate of others. Being competitive doesn't mean you have to be brutal, and being successful doesn't mean you have to relentlessly prove everyone else is not as good as you are.

          Appropriately enough, I received a resume just this week from an engineer with a stellar track record at top media companies, excellent references, and a history of high-profile projects done with dedication and creativity. All the credentials of the prima donna were there, but in the skills section of his resume, he noted: "I am able to accept others' opinions and admit mistakes."

          My only question for him: When would you like to start?

          Do you hire prima donnas? Write to Chad Dickerson. Dickerson is InfoWorld US' CTO.

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