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Diva or Martyr

November 4, 2015



I was hired to work with a leader who was struggling with her team. The problem was turnover. People just could not work for her. Predictably, this was also affecting her ability to attract top talent. The word was out that she was a Diva.

My executive coaching process involves completing interviews with all members of the team to gain insight into my client’s strengths and areas of development. I ask questions that help me understand the “why” in people’s perceptions.

In this instance, my research helped me to see that this was not the case of someone being a diva, but rather a martyr. My client couldn’t stop taking on all the responsibility. As a result she was ineffective at delegation and building accountability within her team.

The stress of carrying all the responsibility was taking its toll. She showed up as impatient, intolerant, unavailable and closed. Based on her behavior it was easy to label her as the company diva. Whatever the leadership label – a culture of fear was the result and my client’s job was on the line if she didn’t change her ways.

The irony of this situation is that deep down she was very empathetic and cared a great deal about her people. She was working like this because she did not know any other way.


What started out as a conversation about hoarding responsibility and poor delegation, turned into one about opening up and showing more vulnerability.
Her people began to feel included, challenged and supported. The culture of fear shifted to one of collaboration and improved productivity. Turnover was one of several metrics positively impacted by her leadership development.

One thing we can learn from this situation is not to make assumptions. Digging deep and remaining curious are the keys to asking the right questions. The answers are there if we are open to seeing them.