The Indispensable Office Stinker

Image source: U.S. National Archives

No one likes a fussy, impolite or otherwise disagreeable coworker. But dealing with someone like that can be tricky, especially if that person excels at his or her assignment.

Michael Feuer, former CEO of OfficeMax, has published a new book called The Benevolent Dictator, which examines this and other challenges of managing people. The real conundrum, as Feuer told IndustryWeek, is when the jerks in the office “are terrific and get the job done.”

Peter Drucker had little tolerance for bad behavior at work—a subject we’ve taken up before. “Manners,” Drucker wrote, “are the ‘lubricating oil’ of an organization.”

And yet Drucker, like Feuer, also understood that successful enterprises often have to live with people’s flaws, including their personality defects. Both U.S. Army General George Marshall and former General Motors Chairman Alfred Sloan “were highly demanding men, but both knew what matters is the ability to do the assignment,” Drucker explained. “If that exists, the company can always decide the rest. If it does not exist, the rest is useless.”

[EXPAND More]One key is to structure the organization so that those who rub others the wrong way have minimal contact with their colleagues. “A good tax accountant in private practice might be greatly hampered by his inability to get along with people,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 classic, The Effective Executive. “But in an organization such a man can be set up in an office of his own and shielded from direct contact with other people.”

This build-on-strengths approach, Drucker noted, applies all the way up to the highest levels of government or commerce. “In picking members of their cabinets, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman said, in effect, ‘Never mind the personal weaknesses. Tell me first what each of them can do,’” Drucker wrote. “It may not be coincidence that these two presidents had the strongest cabinets in 20th century U.S. history.”

Have you ever worked with someone who was a real jerk but, at the same time, undeniably good at his or her job? How did the organization handle this person?[/EXPAND]