How far is too far?

Nov 18 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

When does the disruptive behavior a star performer become too much?

In the U.S. National Football League, talk in recent weeks has been dominated by the case of Terrell Owens, a wide receiver who was let go by the Philadelphia Eagles because of his unacceptable behavior.

According to Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, how employers think about the trade-off between talent and disruptive behavior depends on how important they believe teamwork and morale are in the organization's culture.

Faculty members at Wharton and other experts say Owens is a classic case of a star employee who, because of his immense talent, was given wide latitude even though he engaged in eccentric (at best) and abusive (at worst) behavior. How employers view the trade-off between talent and disruptive behavior sends a powerful message about teamwork in an organization's culture, they say.

And in a curious parallel, today also saw the shock exit ("by mutual consent") from Manchester United of club captain and talisman, Roy Keane, after he criticised the team last month in an interview with the club's own TV channel, which was never shown.

Both of which go to remind us that nobody - however brilliant - is indispensable.