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Talent Dysmorphia (#11 - 4/13/23)
The etymology is fuzzy, but Ted Lasso blasted the term into the spotlight this week.
Keeley: Oh. But I can't fire Shandy. She'll hate me. And she really thinks she's killing it.
Jack: Oh, I am sure she does. The worst people often think they're the best. My dad calls it "talent dysmorphia."
What was likely intended to be a throwaway line really got me thinking about folks we all encounter day to day. Imposter Syndrome is well-known and widely discussed, but what do we do with the troubling opposite end of the confidence spectrum?
Unless you’ve worked alone for your entire career, you most likely felt the presence of someone afflicted with “talent dysmorphia,” or the belief they are more impressive than they actually are.
Who should be the ones to burst their bubble? Should their bubble even be burst?
The responsibility of dealing with these personalities typically falls on the manager, unless the peer group is strong enough to call out the behavior. Sugar-coating feedback will absolutely not work in this case, and using a compliment sandwich will get you nowhere.
Be clear and direct when giving feedback to folks that fall into the category of “talent dysmorphia” and expect it to be received poorly.
I’m fortunate that I’ve only dealt with this a couple of times. Progress is only made when clear feedback focuses on what needs to change. If you need or want to practice giving clear and direct feedback, start with Radical Candor by Kim Scott.
She mentions another great term in her book, “ruinous empathy” which is:
is “nice” but ultimately unhelpful or even damaging. It’s what happens when you care about someone personally, but fail to challenge them directly.
What I’ve found is those with talent dysmorphia have either never been challenged directly, or haven’t consistently been challenged directly. Managers get tired, worn down, and eventually stop providing feedback and at that point have lost.
Instead of getting worn down, get detailed. Document instances of the poor or toxic behavior. Revisit consistently with the individual. Help them understand the impact of their behavior and be critical until you see the results you want.
There are generally two outcomes. Behavior changes and folks are appreciative that you put in the work and support to help them. The more likely outcome is the individual can’t believe you’re holding them back and decides to leave. Ultimately either is a win for you and your business.
Have you ever dealt with someone with talent dysmorphia? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments below!
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What I’m Reading:
Should Product & Engineering Report to One Leader? - Jodi Jefferson
Mass Layoffs and Absentee Bosses Create a Morale Crisis at Meta - New York Times
The great tech reshuffling: Hubs outside Silicon Valley are thriving - The Washington Post
Why is Managing In The Hybrid World So Hard? - Hebba Youssef
What I’m Playing: Shapez
Whuhhhhh, this game. Factoria and Satisfactory are similar but way more intense. Shapez on the other hand is a lo-fi, 2D operational efficiency dream (or nightmare). I’ll likely have a much more detailed post on Project Management and Operational Efficiency as it relates to Shapez, but look at these conveyor belts.
The concept is simple. You have shapes and colors. Now you must combine, slice, color, and shift shapes to send to the hub. Each piece of the conveyor system has different timings and, holy crap, I lose complete track of time when playing. Operational metrics abound and sometimes it’s best to just clear the board between levels.
Cool news, I’m now a mentor on MentorCruise! If you’re a new engineering leader or looking to hone your craft further, let me know and we can get some time set up!
As always, let me know below if you have any thoughts, questions, or comments!