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CEO at Rebalance Earth Rob Gardner Solves the Toxic Talent Conundrum

Robert Gardner

Robert Gardner

33 minutes

Jul 14, 2024

CEO at Rebalance Earth Rob Gardner Solves the Toxic Talent Conundrum
Interview Highlights

In this episode, Rob Gardner, co-founder and CEO of Rebalance Earth, shared his valuable insights on leadership and people management.

Rob’s experience in high-stakes environments like Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch has shaped his pragmatic approach to dealing with people issues in organizations.

Here are some key takeaways from his discussion with Felicia.

Defining Toxic Talent

For Rob, toxic talent is an individual who excels in their role but undermines team performance through negative behaviors. These behaviors can include belittling colleagues, being disrespectful, or politically maneuvering within the company. Such individuals may manage well but create a toxic environment for their peers.

Rob shared that toxic behaviors might include treatment that is belittling or disrespectful, creating resentment, and causing good people to leave or disengage. The risk is greater if the organization becomes overly dependent on the toxic individual.


Evolution of Work Environments

Reflecting on his early career in investment banking, Rob described a high-pressure environment where abusive behaviors were more common. Thankfully, such behaviors are no longer acceptable today. However, the lessons learned from those times underscore the importance of respectful and supportive work environments.


Managing Non-Toxic but Underperforming Team Members

Rob highlighted the difficulties of dealing with team members who aren't toxic but still negatively impact the team. Often, these individuals are over-promoted and find themselves out of their depth, causing frustration and dissatisfaction among more capable team members.


Importance of Performance Reviews

Rob stressed the importance of thorough and regular performance reviews. These reviews should be based on clear job descriptions, values, and goals, providing a structured framework for feedback. He recommended conducting these reviews at least twice a year to ensure ongoing alignment and development.


Effective Feedback and Radical Candor

Drawing from the concept of "radical candor," Rob emphasized the need for honest, caring feedback. Understanding the personality profiles of team members can help tailor feedback to be more effective and less damaging. Leaders should be aware of how their feedback is perceived and adjust their approach accordingly.


When to Let Go of Toxic Talent

Deciding when to let go of toxic talent can be challenging. Rob suggested that a minimum of 12 months is often necessary to manage performance issues properly. Leaders must ensure they have clear job descriptions, values, and a structured feedback process to support this.

Succession Planning and Team Development

Rob emphasized the importance of succession planning and investing in learning and development. Setting clear expectations and goals helps in identifying and nurturing high-potential team members while addressing underperformance effectively.


Tackling People's Problems Proactively

Rob emphasizes that people's problems tend to worsen if not addressed promptly. Ignoring underperformance or other issues can lead to a compounding effect, making them more challenging to resolve over time. He advises starting to work on these problems as soon as they are recognized.


The Role of HR and Legal Support

In larger organizations, leveraging HR and legal resources is crucial. Rob notes that understanding what actions can and cannot be taken legally is essential. He points out the complexities that can arise, such as employees using mental health issues to gain protected status, particularly post-COVID.

Managing Performance and Accountability

Rob is a firm believer in holding people accountable for their performance. He refers to his experience in environments where regular performance reviews often resulted in the bottom performers being let go.


Avoiding “Coasters”

Rob highlights the issue of “coasters” – employees who remain in the company for a long time without adding significant value. These individuals can drain resources and hinder the overall performance of the team.

Building a Trust-Based Culture

For Rob, trust is the cornerstone of effective leadership. He believes that fostering trust within the leadership team allows for open and honest conversations, which are essential for the team’s success.

Social Time and Team Building

To build this trust, Rob recommends spending social time together outside the office. Regular team retreats and social activities can help strengthen relationships and build a solid foundation of trust.

Navigating the Challenges of Leadership

Rob acknowledges that leadership is not about making friends. Leaders need to be comfortable making tough decisions, which can be challenging if they have close personal relationships with their team members.

Balancing Professionalism and Fun

While Rob stresses the importance of maintaining professionalism, he also believes that it’s possible to have fun and enjoy work. However, leaders need to be clear about the boundaries to ensure that personal relationships do not interfere with professional responsibilities.



Rob Gardner’s insights provide a practical guide for leaders navigating the complexities of people management. His emphasis on various aspects of toxic talent and team management offers valuable lessons for anyone in a leadership position. These are valuable lessons to create healthier, more productive work environments.

Official Transcript

We've all encountered toxic individuals in one way or another. According to the 2023 Toxic workplaces report by oak engage 56% of respondents admitted to being subjected to the demoralizing experience of being belittled in front of their colleagues, while 42% reported incidents of bullying. Additionally, 32% of employees have been coerced into working long hours.

Yet, sometimes toxic individuals can produce outstanding business results, and leaders might be swayed to keep them. So what do we do? Today? I'll interview Robert Gardner, co founder and CEO at rebalance Earth to find out. 

Rob, before we get into learning more about how to deal with toxic individuals, could you start by sharing some background on the various leadership roles you've held throughout your career?

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