How to manage the ego of a rockstar developer

Claire Lebarz

Data Science Manager at Airbnb



"We had a rockstar developer who was very strong technically and delivered quality work at high velocity. However, we were noticing issues in the team. He wasn't listening to other team members, would interrupt experts from other teams and he was being very aggressive when defending his point of view. He would criticize others' ideas, which led to tension in the team and fewer people wanting to work with him, despite his technical qualities. As soon as I identified this issue, I wanted to take action. However, it was not clear to me why that was happening. In my relationship with him, he was very open and a great listener. However, his team felt that he didn't have respect for many people in the company, as he felt that they weren't as smart as him."

Actions taken

"I decided to investigate the root cause of his behavior in our next 1:1. It turned out he had frustrations that had built up and manifested in rudeness towards his team members. He felt that he was not recognized at his value, didn't have a title that reflected his technical contributions, and, as a result, he wasn't appreciated by the team and people in the company. Because he felt unappreciated, he needed to show to everyone that he was the smartest person in the room. I realized that as a manager, I had focused on the more problematic elements of my team, and had forgotten to emphasize how much impact he had had, and how recognized he was in the company. I rapidly had a difficult conversation with him about his behavior, but also started to praise him publicly in team meetings and when talking with partners. The praise had a real impact on his behavior. In addition, I acknowledged that he was performing at a higher level in certain dimensions (technical) and reassured him that we would re-evaluate his level in the coming months. I also pushed my manager to reevaluate compensation, as we weren't paying him competitively at all. While we were a very small company, and couldn't compensate him as highly as a larger company could, he highly appreciated the effort."

Lessons learned

"I realized, as a manager, the importance of praising team members, both publicly and privately. It seems like a very small, simple answer, but it was highly effective in fixing the problem. People got caught up in his negative behavior, unable to see what the root cause was."

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Claire Lebarz

Data Science Manager at Airbnb

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthOvercoming BiasIndividual Contributor RolesCompensation & BenefitsTeam & Project ManagementDiversity & Inclusion

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