Dealing with Prima Donnas
Q: What’s the difference between a diva and a prima donna?
A: I don’t know but where’s my water?!
If you are involved with leading people in any capacity for any length of time, you will undoubtedly come across someone who has tendencies which aren’t – shall we say – conducive to team-building and cooperation.
Artists certainly have a reputation for prima donna personalities. So if you’re a worship leader or lead artists of any kind, you should spend some time thinking through a strategy for dealing with prima donnas in your midst.
I’m not sure I could give hard evidence of this, but in my conversations with worship leaders over the past few years, it seems like the popularity and prevalence of the Idol and Glee culture has opened the doors for prima donna personalities to be revealing themselves more and more.
First, let’s define what we’re talking about.
You might be a prima donna if…
- You think every song needs your electric guitar solo.
- You do an overhead drumstick spin at just the right moment.
- You don’t prepare for rehearsal because the material is straightforward.
- You don’t come to rehearsal at all because you’ve already got a handle on the songs.
- You are offended when the song you are supposed to lead gets cut during the service.
A one-time occurrence of any of these things may not be a full out prima donna arrival. But if this is the pattern of behavior, you need to address it and come up with an action plan to deal with it.
It’s important to remember that a prima donna may not always be publicly negative with their ego or dissatisfaction. A prima donna might reveal themselves as passive aggressive – reluctant to criticize but harsh and biting with their veiled encouragement.
The core strategy for prima donna prevention would be to have a solid audition process in place where you are able to be clear in what is expected from someone who is part of the team. There you can gauge personality and how they may fit with others who are already serving. If you don’t have any kind of audition or approval process happening now, this is the first thing you want to work toward.
Auditions may be a new concept for your team and may not be perceived to fit with the culture of your church, but find a process where people who are interested in serving are given the opportunity to showcase their ability as well as gaining a solid understanding of what is expected from them if they are brought on to the team.
Or you may be dealing with someone who is currently serving. Perhaps they may have gone through your audition process and this is new behavior rising to the surface. Or maybe this is someone you inherited as a long-time volunteer with a (finger quotes) “great heart”. Maybe it’s your pastor’s wife. Awkward, but definitely not unheard of.
Once you’ve come to the realization that you are dealing with a prima donna, you really have three choices. Each choice will have an impact on you, on them, and on your church. Here they are:
1. Coddle them
Give in to their demands, allow them to determine the extent of their involvement and commitment, and withhold any kind of consequence. For those of you who tend to avoid confrontation and are generally people-pleasers, this will probably be your default. You have this person serving on your team because they bring a certain level of talent and quality and you are willing to put up with the prima donna for fear of losing them.
What is the impact of this? It will be different in every situation. But by coddling the prima donna, you are abdicating your responsibility for leadership, giving authority to someone who should be a team player, and contributing to the performance-focused culture of worship in your church that worship leaders should be avoiding.
2. Cut them
At the other end of the spectrum is the choice to remove them from serving. This may happen sooner or later, depending on the specifics of the situation. But if you have set clear expectations with defined consequences, the option of firing a volunteer remains as part of a solution. Wisdom would suggest that you tread lightly here and consult with your pastor or another leader before pulling the trigger on this.
Obviously the decision to remove them needs to be done in the context of expectations and consequences (ie. “If you miss rehearsal again, you will no longer be scheduled to play.”) rather than as a reactionary move. If you are a new leader, do this with caution. But it certainly is an option available to you.
3. Correct them
If a prima donna personality is becoming evident from someone who serves in your ministry, it must be addressed. You have a responsibility to call it out – for the sake of your leadership, the sake of your church, and the sake of the others who serve. This shouldn’t happen publicly or be intended to embarrass the person you are confronting. It should be done in-person rather than over email or text message. And you must be very clear in your reasoning as part of the conversation.
When you do this, if there is a sense of remorse (or if it’s a case where sin is present, genuine repentance) and a desire to make things right, you now have the opportunity to correct the relationship and correct the behavior.
Take the opportunity to lay out clear expectations. What does it mean to be part of the worship team? What is expected when it comes to rehearsal? What is and is not appropriate behavior on stage during the service? Connect these to specific outcomes with a clear understanding that prima donnas have no place on a worship team.
Nobody serves or leads in an area of ministry primarily because they enjoying dealing with difficult personalities. But the reality is that our call is to the people around us. Our call is not to perfect performance or exclusive participation. Dealing with a prima donna personality will be a struggle and you will need to make some hard decisions.
As a leader you have three choices in dealing with a prima donna: coddle them, cut them, correct them. How you choose will have significant impact on you, on you ministry and on your church. Choose well.