That seems like a crazy suggestion, but bear with me.
Your most difficult leaders are complete a*ses. They're terrible people and they grind and use talented direct reports like commodities. No HR leader condones that. Not you, not me.
But - and there is a but - at times, your most difficult leaders are entrenched for very good reasons from a business perspective. They're uber-talented in small niches that make them super valuable. They get results with their style that no one has generated for the business in question. You know the right way to manage people, but you have no leverage to impact change related to this type of leader in your organization.
Which means you're left to help the organization cope with this management style. One of the biggest ways you can help the organization cope is to find direct reports for the difficult leader who can take the punishment and abuse he/she is dealing out.
Your best bet in this situation? It might just be children of alcoholics.
Stay with me.
Was at lunch with a friend recently and they shared a conversation they had with someone at Apple during the Steve Jobs glory days. One of the things they learned from that Apple executive was that over time, Apple came to the realization that the best people to work and thrive under an abusive Steve Jobs were children of alcoholics. Why children of alcoholics? Consider the following rationalization that person provided:
Children of alcoholics:
- Are used to explosions from people they are around and subservient to ALL THE TIME.
- Are used to receiving NO LOVE from the alcoholic parent in questions.
- Are used to cleaning up messes.
- Are used to covering up bad things that happen as a result of the alcoholic.
- See glimpses of good in the parent in question that make them want to hold on, even as the blowback is distributed on many different levels.
Add it all up and it makes sense - children of alcoholics are probably best suited to deal with your most difficult leader and thrive where others can't.
Of course, to make the connection you've got to dive deeper into the interview than you normally would. You can probably only afford to interview in this way for the highest positions in your company with a difficult leader, not for line management positions.
Also, you don't have to ask directly about alcoholism in the family. You can instead ask about dealing with difficult people in the workplace and then tie it back to what they learned from their family that helped them learn those workplace lessons.
Ask broad questions, probe back to the family days and be an active listener. You might find the perfect direct report for your most difficult leader.