Embrace Your Prima Donna

A writer from a national magazine called me this week. He wanted quotes for an article he is writing for the December issue. I was very excited. The article is about Prima Donnas. I asked him if he was sure I was the person he was trying to reach. I am humble and a team player, at least I think so.

He called the right person. I'm sure he found it ironic that I immediately thought of myself, but he spared me any analysis. He wanted my quotes about how a Prima Donna affects the workplace. Cool! My new book is about how personalities can create drama at work. He gave me an example of a sales rep who consistently outsells his co-workers. The sales rep does not follow any of the rules of his workplace. Every process must be adjusted to accommodate his schedule. In the magazine writer's words, "This guy breezes in and breezes out. No one really knows what he is doing, but they know when the checks come in."

That can be a dangerous situation. I felt tension and I do not work with the guy. Where are the boundaries? The writer then asked me for a few "snappy" lines. I do not know if I can be happy on command, but I tried. My first comment was that there are times when the circumstances require a unique personality. This is often so in sales. When you have a special personality, people remember you and look forward to seeing you. They also buy your products, especially if they are unique and helpful too.

The writer told me that he wanted some "psychological jargon" for the article. I'm not sure if the Prima Donna has a personality disorder. I think that negotiating the workplace often requires adjusting yourself to be effective. Sales does not require modesty. Belief in the product and confidence in your ability to sell it is cruel. Moral imperatives apply. There are lots of products that cause harm and they are sold just as enthusiastically as any other. In fact, many people are sold things that they can not afford or do not need because the person selling it is so convincing.

This Prima Donna example was hard to nail down. This guy is competing with his co-workers. In some circles, we are taught that people will not like you when you win. Winners will tell you that it comes with the territory. One of my classes had a discussion about Rosa Parks. Some of us saw a biography about her that examined her reasons for leaving Alabama and making Detroit her hometown. People in the Civil Rights Movement were mean to her. International exposure inspired a lot of jealousy. Can you imagine a sweeter, more humble person than Rosa Parks? Few of us have that level of grace. All of us have to deal with the fact that people do not like things about us. If that reason is that you are outselling them, so be it!

I do not think the writer wanted me to be "pro-Prima Donna." It's provided to be a negative description. I really tried, but my last quote was equally positive. I thought of another unique quality of the sales profession. They work for the customer. Their work often happens outside of the workplace, or at least away from direct supervision. They are accountable to the people they are selling to. The guy is breezing in and out because it is a formality. His work is done in the trenches. The lack of structure seems to suit him.

I wish I could think of something snappy, wry, and cynical but we have so much to learn from each other. The only time that being a Prima Donna is bad is when they are bad at what they do. There is another name that applies to that situation – Drama Queen. Rosa Parks was the real thing. She did what she had to do and accepted the consequences, good and bad. She maintained her humility through her very long life. We did not see her on the red carpet in the latest designer clothing. She worked until she could not work any more. She is a great example of how to be great and humble at the same time.

People do not understand you when you stand out. Needing to fit in can keep you from being exceptional. You have to make a conscious choice. I'm sure the writer expected my responses to be different. There are times when what you do will not be popular or expected. Do it anyway!