Can the Brilliant Jerk Be Managed Effectively?

 
 
SUMMING UP—"Brilliant jerks" dot every organization. But what to do about them? Jim Heskett's readers offer a range of remedies intended to capture their brilliant performance while reducing their toxic personalities.
 
 
by James Heskett

Summing Up


Can the Brilliance of the "Jerk" Be Tapped?

The best business problem cases are those that divide a class into groups making two or more persuasive arguments. The questions of whether or not and how to make investments in "brilliant jerks" seems to fit that mold. This month's question elicited responses across the spectrum of recommended ways of managing them.

At one extreme was Sherpa, who said, "Any sort of 'brilliant jerk" is simply another form of psychopath. Psychopaths have no place in the workplace… " At the other extreme was Crispin Maxweles, who asked, "Was Steve Jobs possibly a 'brilliant jerk'? Could innovation be stifled by simply eliminating the uncomfortable individuals?" Lawrence Nwaru added, "We are all brilliant jerks in one form or the other."

There were differences of opinion about where the fault lies for the phenomenon. Munyaradzi Mushato suggested that, "my experience in industry tells me that most jerks are created by the very systems that are designed to improve performance … that is, about 70% of the jerks are bred!… Most organisations have put in place systems that encourage the emergence of high flyers … at the expense of team goals." Platon suggested that the presence of brilliant jerks may be a warning sign, commenting that "brilliance often is frustrated in environments where mediocrity is most prevalent." the real issue, he added, is why? Trevor Birkenfeld commented that "the true 'jerk' is the manager who is unable to fuse this talent into the organization… The task of management would be simple if only 'easy' people were involved."

A number of suggestions were put forth for ways to tap into the value of the "destructive hero." Serene Huang: "I would talk to them about their behaviors to find out if they are actually aware of it … I would also make peer appraisal part of their year end bonus." Gerald Nanninga commented that "perhaps you are giving them the wrong numbers to hit." Before you fire the 'jerk', he said, "make sure he is upsetting things for the wrong reason rather than for the right reason." Joseph Seiler recalled that in growing companies where he worked, "I came across a few of these Type 4 people. What seemed to help was to load them up with big projects and to score their interpersonal skills often." Grant Stanley said "rather than dismiss them I have been able to use their skills and abilities to … create training materials to share their best practices."

Todd Stark mused about how much we really know about brilliant jerks and how to manage them. As he put it, "I think we need to learn more about this type of person to deal with this phenomenon. We need to learn more about specifically how these folks bring something valuable into the organization and specifically how to minimize the damage," Stark wrote. "Many companies are run by 'jerks' and some of the most successful projects in the world have been accomplished by 'jerks.'"

Todd's comments prompt the questions: Have we failed to take appropriate notice of research and accumulated experiences that would help managers understand and act on the problem? Can the brilliance of the "jerk" be tapped with some degree of consistency? Is it worth it? What do you think?

Original Article

The annoying employee who makes his numbers while alienating those around him will gain needed attention in the coming months with at least one book about to be published on the subject. This is an age-old problem that most managers handle badly.

You know the story by now. It concerns high-performing employees, known by some as "stars" and by others as "destructive heroes" or "brilliant jerks," those who generate a great deal of business while creating problems for colleagues. They are demanding to the point of being abusive, they make promises to clients that their colleagues cannot meet, they take too much credit for success, and they generally are unable to adhere to commonly shared values of members of the organization.

The management response to this kind of situation is too often ineffective. By their own admission, their managers are reluctant to rock the boat as long as the numbers continue to be good. In doing so, they underestimate the costs to the organization, including the loss of other talent. And when they do act, they do so much too slowly, often after most of the damage has been done.

Jack Welch has written about the phenomenon of what he calls "jerks" or "bullies" from his own experience. At GE they were referred to as a "Type 4" manager, "the person who delivers on all the commitments, makes the numbers, but doesn't share the values." In 1992, Welch made the dramatic announcement at a companywide meeting that four out of the five managers being asked to leave the company had delivered good financial performance but were shown the door because they "didn't practice our values." (By the timing of his actions, he also illustrated one problem of managing the brilliant jerk—the event occurred 12 years after Welch assumed the role of CEO.

My conclusions in the past have reflected those of leaders whom I respect. They include listening closely to what is going on; beginning an intervention with the offender early on; providing an opportunity for attitude improvement, possibly with the engagement of a counselor or coach; and then terminating in a timely fashion the employee who is unable to change.

Of course, the best course of action may be not to hire this type of person in the first place. As Richard Fairbanks, CEO of Capital One, is fond of saying, "At most companies, people spend 2 percent of their time recruiting and 75 percent managing their recruiting mistakes." However, it's hard to avoid the occasional hiring mishap.

In revisiting this topic, I'm beginning to wonder if there are ways of salvaging brilliant jerks and preserving the energy, ideas, and performance they can bring to an organization? For example, in larger organizations is reassignment a solution? Will a job with fewer interactions with others help? Can a different boss make a difference?

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman have written about "how to manage around a weakness" not by changing people but by balancing "the strengths and weaknesses of each individual." What have been your experiences? How can organizations best handle the "brilliant jerk"? What do you think?

To Read More:

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), especially pp. 164-174.

John Grossmann, "The Long Odds of Reforming an Employee Who Is a 'Destructive Hero'," The New York Times, October 30, 2014, p. B6.

Mike McNamee, "Credit Card Revolutionary," Stanford Business, May, 2001, p. 23.

Jack Welch, Jack: Straight from the Gut (New York: Warner Books, 2001), especially pp. 185-204.

    • Glenn Younger
    • CEO, Grah Security
    Hiring well to begin with is great advice, often overlooked.

    There are 2 basic types of Brilliant Jerks (many actually but let's start with the 2 different types):
    1. Many people start out great and change as they gain success, stature, and ability. They become successful, even superstars, and are given more power and authority and then handle it poorly. I call this the "When I get to be Dad" managers. These people can be saved with coaching, mentoring, and timely intervention. They just need a new vision of a person with power looks like and how they should manage.
    2. Those Brilliant Jerks who have NEVER been easy to work around. They did not change over time, or change after a promotion, they were "jerks" from day one.
    If you inherit or miss-hire these folks often it is challenging, or impossible, to turn them around. Saying goodbye as quickly as possible may be the best solution.

    These are the 2 scenarios I have most commonly encountered. What have you seen?
    • Serene Huang
    • General Manager, www.gcfh.com.cn
    Brilliant jerks are hard to let go because they beautify the revenue statements at the end of the day. However, the negative energy is very damaging to the organization as a whole. I would personally talk to them about their behaviors to find out if they are actually aware of it and if they would change to fit the culture and make the environment a happier place to work in. I would also make peer apprasial part of their year end bonus. They would be given a period of time for improvement and if not, they have to be let go to save the company from spiral negativity. Another method that i would try is to transfer them to another sub company with a flatter structure, allowing them less communication among colleagues while still exceling in what they do. They can be out-field most of the time and have a secretary who does most of the liaison with others.
    • Sherpa
    Any sort of "brilliant Jerk" is simply another form of psychopath. Psychopaths have no place in workplace especially in those workplaces that make excuses for abnormal behavior, in order to boost any aspect of the organization.
    • Jose Fonseca
    • Corporate VP, KIO Networks
    What if the brilliant jerk is the CEO ?
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC(India) Private Limited
    Managing a brilliant jerk is effectively possible only if this trait is observed immediately and the virus in him/her not allowed to grow. The problem is that despite observing such negative behaviours, we usually avoid to take appropriate actions due to being carried away by the unexpected (at times excellent) results via this individual. More so, by this poor managerial observation and inaction, the jerk gets encouraged to continue his actions which in fact go contrary to the vision of the organisation. It is here that the HR has to play a pivotal role.
    Further, if at the initial stage of recruitment there is even some indication of jerkiness the person should not be taken on board. Let's nipthe evil in the bud ASAP. Giving a long rope will definitely lead to disaster sooner or later.
    • Trevor Birkenfeld
    • CEO
    If the "brilliant jerk" is of value to the company, if he/she identifies with the company's goals, if he/she contributes to output and group effort - the true "jerk" is the manager who is unable to fuse this talent into the organization. This may well mean finding a slot in the organization where the strengths of the individual can be used and the possible disruption minimized. The task of management would be simple if only "easy" people were involved.
    • ahmad jamal
    • manager trade finance, banking sector
    Most of employees who are brilliant in performance will end up being brilliant jerks because they earn revenues and managers depend on them. Emphasis should have been on the reasons why brilliant employees turn into jerks.
    • Praveen
    • Head of Finance
    Jerks, brilliant or otherwise - cause long term damage if left uncontrolled. While the KPIs and revenue is easy to see and an "immediate gratification", the long term effects on the organisation are more difficult to measure, subjective to link the effect to the cause and hence often ignored. The sooner you 'fix' them the better - option 1 is to counsel/mentor etc etc and a quick option 2 if 1 doesnt work is to get rid of them.
    • Gerald Nanninga
    • Principal Consultant, Planninga From Nanninga
    In general, I agree with Jack Welch that you have to get rid of the jerks. They destroy the culture and destroy the strategy. But before you toss them out, here's a few things to consider:

    1. If these people will "do anything" to hit their numbers, then perhaps you are giving them the wrong numbers to hit. If, instead of "sales", you were to reward them on things like "customer satisfaction" or "360 Feedback" or on "living the culture," perhaps they would then support the culture and the strategy.

    2. Sometimes good performers irritate the rest because the rest don't like being made to look bad. Perhaps the rest of the people have gotten too lazy or too complacent or too stuck in the ways of the past. It's no wonder in that situation that someone who has extra energy and is trying new things gets shunned. So before you fire the "jerk", make sure he is upsetting things for the wrong reason rather than for the right reason.

    3. There could be many reasons why the jerk is successful. Although most of those reasons may be due to bad behavior, some may just be due to different behavior. Try to learn from the different behavior.
    • Balfour Manuel
    A destructive hero who has no scope to reform into Co culture is best moved out irrespective of results ,but just sometimes work well under a different leader or an isolated assignment ,even live well with in the organisations "value system"more often than not they carry sharp respect for what the organisation stands for .
    • Fletch
    • self
    Also check out the book, "The No A****** Rule" by Robert I Sutton, PHD of Stanford University. The book followed an article by the same name he wrote for the Harvard Business Review.
    • Samuel Reich
    • Engineer, Tribco Inc.
    In engineering it ha a twist. There those who keep their skills and learn and can do. Things are done alone but with input from marketing, production etc, and engineers doing other parts of project. Then there those who want to advance by their smiles and jokes with the boss and even let salesmen (sales engineers) do their do their work. They bellam others for failures (the salesmen) and try to take credit and want every thing to be a group project.

    Calculations and research into are obviously done alone but big projects much be broken into smaller tasks. Ther little point in having three people get in each others way.

    When mangement looks on the smiling joking jerk as engineering management material because he make a good salesman. You get some in charge who thinks only people outside the organization knows anything and the methods that he must have learned in school but forgot
    does not exist. Also he wants do brainstorming all the time. The information has found out which a time consuming process calculations, tests, drawings etc. Not the type thing you can do at meeting. In short the those that can do and do do, think others are jerks even when are the boss.
    • Lawrence Nwaru
    • Project Director, LBS Consulting Limited
    We are all brilliant Jerks in one form or the other. As managers, the problem with managing these special class of people is our impatience in understanding that they are facing some form of challenge beyond them. We all have our good and bad sides - our strengths and weaknesses. All these can be curbed. But how?

    These jerks appear outrageous because of their awkward behaviour. Most times, we as managers use our autocratic leadership approach to deal with them in the name of bringing about a change in behaviour. My late father once told me that behaviour cannot be changed but can be modified. If we attempt this simple and common suggestion of modifying behaviour rather than attempting to change them, then the untapped potentials in these jerks can be tapped to fullest utilised before we hurriedly exit them.

    I have once had to manage a jerk during my career in leadership. Quite an excellent performer, meeting and exceeding targets at all times. But would have issues with one colleague today, and another tomorrow. Again, this jerk was very erratic and gives in to emotions at every slight provocation.

    I was more concerned about what he brings to the table than the indiscipline that he exhibits. But sooner I found out that his behaviour was affecting the entire team. It was going to be a case of one good performance from an individual, and lower output from the entire team members -orchestrated by this jerk's behaviour. What did I do?
    I called a meeting and asked the entire team members if they can tell me one good thing in the next person on his or her right hand. We went through the rounds. Then I changed the game slightly by asking the team member if there is one person that they all admire his or her behaviour. To maintain confidentiality, I suggested that we write down the name of the individual that each of us thinks had done extremely well, wrap it, and drop it on the table. While that was done, I again asked the team to write down the name of one individual his or her behaviour is so frustrating that we would like to suggest a change of attitude. Everyone respectfully responded and we took record of the findings. Shockingly, one individual tops in the two case-scenarios - in one hand the best staff, and in another, the worst colleague. This is my principled way to show the team my dilemma in dealing squarely with the unbecoming attitude of this individual. I had been accused of having soft spot fo
    r this guy. My mother once told me that you do not throw away the baby with the dirty water.

    At that point, I told the team that we should allow the individual speak to us on how he feels being the 'good and the ugly' at the same time. And the Jerk in our midst retorted, and I quote ''I appreciate all your recognition, and at the same time very sorry for my actions to you all''... We all clapped for him and a few hugged him. I made it clear that everyone should rise for him - that it takes courage to accept one's wrong and to take responsibility for change.

    I later called this Jerk into my office and shared the outcome of the meeting and the implications it has on the development and growth of the individual and personality in him. He promised me a drastic change.

    A few months later, I shared some thoughts with other colleagues of his, and they all confirmed that there has been remarkable change in his attitude and hostility to colleagues. That again reminds us that behaviour is a long held belief and it takes pretty long time and effort to change. We can only modify behaviour by applying necessary supportive controls to the affected individual. More critical to this change initiative is working together with the individual and helping him to overcome the challenges he or she is facing. It is not the best to use force or to apply the conventional disciplinary approach to such individuals. They are really going through some challenges beyond their control and need our help.

    Thank you.
    • Todd I. Stark
    • Consultant
    I think we need to learn more about this type of person to deal with this phenomenon. We need to learn more about specifically how these folks bring something valuable into the organization and specifically how to minimize the damage. Simply saying that "jerks" should not be in a company is ridiculous. Many companies are run by "jerks" and some of the most successful projects in the world have been accomplished by "jerks." Trait narcissism and psychopathy, when not overly extreme and somewhat mediated by other factors can uniquely drive success both as individuals and in helping motivate groups. But it's not enough to characterize someone as "brilliant" or a "jerk," if you are working with them or managing them you need to know precisely what they are good at doing and how to protect people from the darker aspects of their distinctive focus.
    • Anonymous
    We are all brilliant Jerks in one form or the other. As managers, the problem with managing these special class of people is our impatience in understanding that they are facing some form of challenge beyond them. We all have our good and bad sides - our strengths and weaknesses. All these can be curbed. But how?

    These jerks appear outrageous because of their awkward behaviour. Most times, we as managers use our autocratic leadership approach to deal with them in the name of bringing about a change in behaviour. My late father once told me that behaviour cannot be changed but can be modified. If we attempt this simple and common suggestion of modifying behaviour rather than attempting to change them, then the untapped potentials in these jerks can be tapped to fullest and utilised before we hurriedly exit them.

    I have once had to manage a jerk during my career in leadership. Quite an excellent performer, meeting and exceeding targets at all times. But he would have issues with one colleague today, and another tomorrow. Again, this jerk was very erratic and gives in to emotions at every slightest provocation.

    I was more concerned about what he brings to the table than the indiscipline that he exhibits. But sooner I found out that his behaviour was affecting the entire team. It was going to be a case of one good performance from an individual, and lower output from the entire team members -orchestrated by this jerk's behaviour. What did I do?
    I called a meeting and asked the entire team members if they can tell me one good thing in the next person on his or her right hand. We went through the rounds. Then I changed the game slightly by asking the team member if there is one person that they all admire his or her behaviour. To maintain confidentiality, I suggested that we write down the name of the individual that each of us thinks had done extremely well, wrap it, and drop it on the table. While that was done, I again asked the team to write down the name of one individual his or her behaviour is so frustrating that we would like to suggest a change of attitude. Everyone respectfully responded and we took record of the findings. Shockingly, one individual tops in the two case-scenarios - in one hand the best staff, and in another, the worst colleague. This is my principled way to show the team my dilemma in dealing squarely with the unbecoming attitude of this individual. I had been accused of having soft spot fo
    r this guy. My mother once told me that you do not throw away the baby with the dirty water.

    At that point, I told the team that we should allow the individual speak to us on how he feels being the 'good and the ugly' at the same time. And the Jerk in our midst retorted, and I quote ''I appreciate all your recognition, and at the same time very sorry for my actions to you all''... We all clapped for him and a few hugged him. I made it clear that everyone should rise for him - that it takes courage to accept one's wrong and to take responsibility for change.

    I later called this Jerk into my office and shared the outcome of the meeting and the implications it has on the development and growth of the individual and personality in him. He promised me a drastic change.

    A few months later, I shared some thoughts with other colleagues of his, and they all confirmed that there has been remarkable change in his attitude and hostility to colleagues. That again reminds us that behaviour is a long held belief and it takes pretty long time and effort to change. We can only modify behaviour by applying necessary supportive controls to the affected individual. More critical to this change initiative is working together with the individual and helping him to overcome the challenges he or she is facing. It is not the best to use force or to apply the conventional disciplinary approach to such individuals. They are really going through some challenges beyond their control and need our help.

    Thank you.
    • Crispin Maxweles
    • CFO
    Was Steve Jobs possibly a "briliant jerk?" Could innovation be stifled by simply eliminating the uncomfortable individuals? And who defines who is a "brilliant jerk?" Possibly the not-so-brilliant conformists.
    • Joseph Seiler MCC
    • Executive Business Coach, Your Natural Edge Success Coaching Inc
    When I was starting, growing and strengthening companies I came across a few of these Type 4 people. What seemed to help was to load them up with big projects and to score their interpersonal skills often. That reminded them of the need to learn more EQ with the reward of the big juicy project. The balance didn't always to the trick, and yes, some found the door the only way. The health of the whole team was more important. They were given candid feedback, assistance to change, a big bonus when they found the balance and the door if they just couldn't do it
    • Keiko Matsumoto
    • General Manager, Life Insurance Co.
    If high-performing employees are too creative, their colleagues tend not to share the values because of the difficulty of understanding. In these cases, is it easy to find whether the high-performing employees are brilliant jerks or not ?
    • Grant Stanley
    • Sales & Marketing Director, CSM Consultants
    The "Brilliant Jerk" as he/she is referred to is a perception by the person labelling this individual. Whilst an individual is consistently over-achieving set objectives, one has to ask why the individual is disruptive and are they actually being disruptive at all? Are the people complaining the ones under-achieving or jealous?
    I have encountered many such individuals during my career and rather than dismiss them I have been able to use their skills and abilities to benefit the rest of the sales force, I have engaged them in creating training materials to share their best practices, I have engaged with them in order to help them realise the impact they have on the team and how to minimise intimidation/disruption.

    Richard Fairbanks is absolutely correct in his analysis of the time spent managing the recruits, but are they mistakes or opportunities? The time and cost involved in recruiting people for growth/replacement can be phenomenal and to suddenly decide that one individual is disruptive and to cut him/her loose is a poor management decision.

    As Leaders it is out job to serve our employees and not the other way around and we are accountable for our decisions (Including recruitment). We have had performance improvement plans for decades and these are not necessarily a negative application and can be used to channel the positives and minimise the negative traits. To reassign is just passing the buck and this is not good management. Transferring to different boss highlights a training need for the existing boss and his/her lack of ability to manage people.

    The numbers are key and as long as the individual is consistently achieving and not impacting on Brand or customer experiences then there is no real problem. Ineffective leaders moan about challenges instead of thinking of creative and positive methods to channel the positivity and enthusiasm of the "Brilliant Jerk".
    • Need to be anonymous
    • University lecturer, A university
    I work in a faculty where a "brilliant jerk" has been given reign to inflict huge damage on morale and, in consequence, productivity of peers and those lower down the ranks. I believe this person is a Type 1 (Glenn Younger) brilliant jerk, who has become carried away by his own success. Senior management appear blind to the damage this person is inflicting on trust and collegiality, to the extent that people will no longer speak up because they fear their jobs are at risk. My gut instinct is that senior management just want someone who can appear to make problems go away and don't care how they do it. Brilliant jerks thrive in this environment, but those who actually carry out the work that serves the purpose of the organisation suffer.
    • PLATON
    • Director
    No one has recognised that brilliance often is frustrated in environments where mediocrity is most prevalent. In many scenarios these brilliant 'jerks' carry the organization and become frustrated over time when management supports the status quo. The fact that the term 'jerk' is used in a professional environment indicates a social typecasting that states 'not liked or appreciated by the majority.' The real issue is why?

    It is after all, not the jerk who makes his numbers and does everything right that brings down a company.
    • Ashraf Abdelmoteleb
    • National Executive - Knowledge Transformation, META
    The challenge for the next line in command is whether they see the behaviour and have the evidence to act. Reassignment is probably effective where the cause is potential personality differences and misunderstandings, coaching works only for those who are aware and willing to be coached, but broad "poisonous" behaviour needs more dramatic action.
    • Munyaradzi Mushato
    • Talent Management Consultant, Oracle Wednesday
    While it is correct that we can hire Jerks into our organisations, largely due faulty or inadequate talent identification methodologies, my experience in industry tells me that most jerks are created by the very systems that are designed to improve performance in organisations: that is were about 70% of the jerks are bred!

    The problems lays in lack of unifying goals.
    Most organisations have put in place systems that encourage the emergence of high flyers and Champions at individual level, at the expense of team goals. That , in my view, is what creates and feeds jerks in organisations. The quest for individual recognition and promotion tends to override any considerations for the needs, feelings and aims of others.

    Its simple: what you feed and reward will surely grow.

    Even if by some error, some jerk-minded guy sneaks into an organisation, a performance management system that focuses more on team goals, team learning and shared vision and purpose will ensure that the jerk-minded recruits find no fodder to feed their appetites and that no jerks are created and nurtured internally.

    The reward systems in organisations should such that jerks are not rewarded for their behavior. Managers sometimes make efforts to discourage Jerks and their dysfunction, but they then send conflicting signals about the kind of culture they want to build when jerks are rewarded by promotion.

    I personally disagree with the notion that we can manage jerks by transferring them to less-interactive roles. "Jerkish" behavior is a manifestation of selfishness. The Systems Thinking view of an organisations looks at an organisation as a whole that is made up of inter-dependent sub-parts, which sub-parts must interact,corporate in order for the whole to realise is purpose of existence.

    Jerks are also created by insecure managers who want to keep people under them divided, through separate and sometimes private rewards.Their encouraged to be "better and different from the rest". The Jerks in that case not only cause dysfunction , but are also used by the insecure managers as informants and spy on their colleagues. When jerkish behaviour appears to reward and to win the attention of the boss, everyone aspires to be a jerk in system like that.

    MY SUGGESTED SOLUTION FOR JERKS:

    Contextual Performance MUST be made part of the key performance metrics at individual level : it is a measure of how well an individual encourages, enables and supports others in achieving their goals/targets.

    thank you.
    • Robert Hillier
    • Retired - soon . . . .
    Management pays the true business cost of not addressing (and therefore validating) the behavior of single minded winner takes all employees. What is that cost? Workforce perception of lip service to posted on the wall core values, or just being inept in addressing issues obvious to the rank and file.
    • Carl P.
    • L&OD Consultant
    When the term "Brilliant Jerk" becomes the metaphor for organizational productivity (therein lies the problem). To associate monetary bottom lines with brilliance, and provide room for its continuing growth - says a lot about the intrinsic culture of the/a company.

    Simply stated, if companies look at the skills, type, and specific qualifications required for the job; and associate their priorities with the organizational structure they wish to - implement, and maintain: the brilliant jerk will not have leverage to thrive, and/or have to be punished for secondary offenses overtime. The thought process would be that they would already know the existing parameters of the organization: as provided and reviewed during the pre-hiring/onboarding phases.

    So, can the Brilliant Jerk be managed: Yes! But, you must make the management of various personality types a priority in the beginning - not only when it becomes a source of contention, or a problem (this can be enacted by not only weighing monetary contributions, but also with setting standards for overall interactions and personal engagement/development).
    • John Parikhal
    • Partner, Breakthrough Management LLC
    Most people don't want to be jerks - even brilliant ones. Which is why this column misses the point. Here's what's really happening ...
    1. People behave the way they do because it gets them what they want.
    2. They only change their behavior when it stops getting them what they want.
    3. Starting in childhood, they "unconsciously" develop a pattern of behaviors that "work" for them - that support natural biases in their personality. It becomes habitual very fast.
    4. They get "versatile" (change their behavior) only when a current behavior doesn't work for them.
    5. Along the way, the "jerk" was set up to fail by teachers, managers, friends, and family who didn't effectively influence him/her to get more versatile. Often this happens because they are uncomfortable with "conflict" or "disagreeing" with someone's behavior. So they do nothing. Which basically says that the "jerk" behavior is OK.
    6. A "jerk" can change their behavior. If they want to. It's most likely they will do it when the punishers for not changing outweigh the rewards for maintaining the inappropriate behavior. And, that's a manager's job - to help them change.
    • Dr. Bill Eickhoff
    • Certified Coach, Trainer and Speaker, The John Maxwell Team
    Ah, the dilemma of the Brilliant Jerk. Peter Drucker said "Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast." Culture trumps everything. Culture reflects the values of the organization. It's the job of the leader to define the values and walk those values. Culture tells the employees what is allowed around here. So in my mind, the brilliant jerk's values do not align with those of the organization. What message does that send to the rank and file? Hey, these are our values, but when push comes to shove anything goes. That's how organization's start to lose their way. The good one's leave and the weak one's stay.

    Yet, for some reason leaders get blinded by the brilliance and make allowances for the bad behavior, thinking the jerk will eventually embrace the organization's values. NOT. No matter how brilliant they may seem, WHY WOULD YOU EVER HIRE SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T BUY INTO YOUR COMPANY'S VALUES?
    • Brilliant Jerk
    • Sales, Self
    In the end it is about the culture of the company. It is a fact that not all companies are created equal. Not all companies evolve the same way. Some will strive to be a great company until the end of time and some just want to be acquired. A sample of the two types will have different cultures.

    The brilliant jerk is often bred into becoming a jerk while having brilliant qualities. The brilliant jerk should recognize this and part ways if needed. Christ was once a brilliant jerk which led to his crucifixion by the mob. We are far from being like christ but populist leadership will lead to this.

    A manager was once interrupted by his superior while making excuses using the brilliant jerk. What is management's role in this failure? That question stopped the politics and everybody started performing.

    A team needs a strong player the same way a strong player needs a strong team. Politics does not have a place in high performing teams.
    • Philippe Gouamba
    • Vice President of Human Resources, Skyline Windows, LLC
    Brilliant people are hard to find but they are out there. There is no room in a future-minded organization for any jerks, be they brilliant or not. The Jerk is the individual that will land a company in front of a judge, not for poor performance but for improper conduct toward his/her fellow employees.
    If a jerk can turn around his "jerk-ness" and become a good employee then there is really not much of an issue. If the jerk cannot overcome his poor interpersonal skills, then he/she does not belong in an organization that values how their employees interact with each other.
    • John Donahue
    • CEO, Trinity KM
    If it took Jack Welch 12 years to deal with it, I guess the logical conclusion is most of us have to learn to live with it. These people generally do require more coddling, but we tolerate it because we either feel they are worth it, or we do not believe we have the clout to confront them.
    I have found that telling them how important they are to the organization, something we both realize is true, does often inspire a little more teamwork, and garners more respect that threats. A lesson straight from the pages of "How to Win Friends and Influence People".
    As managers and leaders it's our job to balance the needs of our organization and our people. The solution may not always be what we wish it could be, but we have to work with reality.
    • Mary Jo Asmus
    • President, Aspire Collaborative Services LLC
    I don't think the answer to your question is a pure black and white one. I've worked with and managed a few "brilliant jerks", and my response would be a measured "it depends". Sometimes individuals are not self aware. If they have a caring manager (or a coach) who can help them to understand the destruction they cause AND if they are highly motivated to change to do the hard work it takes, AND their co-workers are willing to help (i.e., the jerk hasn't burned all of the bridges), it's possible that they can change.

    I agree with Marcus Buckingham that balancing strengths and weaknesses can happen. It may take a lot of stars aligning and a lot of effort, but it is possible.
    • Gopalan Narasimhan GN
    • Director, Bumblebee Leadership Academy
    Brilliant jerks make a direct contribution to the immediate numbers and stretch others to do more while their negative impact is not understood nor objectively debated for they are often the darlings of the management. In my opinion, it boils down to the culture and leadership on how this issue is handled.

    Even Jack Welch found this to be a tough call to deal with them before finally he sacked them ad made the reasons known to all in unambiguous terms. Do other leaders have the conviction or the courage to do so?

    A new approach to performance management should look at the following aspects besides the numbers.

    1/ Can the employees be measured and incentivized based on organizational value created instead of individual sales or other target achievements? Example, how to measure and quantify the value from a Customer acquisition that adds long term value in terms of innovation or market leadership as against contribution to quarterly targets? Do we know what is a bad decision or bad sale and whether it is ploughed back into the star performer's performance evaluation?

    2/ What factors will go into such a measurement for organizational value creation and how to quantify them? Examples - contribution to co-innovation, raising product standards, c-sat, collaboration and teamwork, quality, reliability, etc.

    3/ How do we assess the impact of high individual performance at the cost of others' performance? Impact on others performance can be due to resources grabbing, team morale, customer satisfaction, etc.

    A fresh approach to create a performance culture based on real value created is the need of the hour. This will also improve the organizational climate, reduce the unhealthy competition and unethical practices, and above all better respect for all individuals at the workplace.
    • Anonymous
    • President
    There is a saying in leadership... "you and your organization become what you tolerate". If you tolerate the brilliant jerk, you effectively become that person very quickly. Trust me... your customers, employees, and best vendors will quickly leave. I'm leading a turn around effort currently where this was EXACTLY the case.
    • Femi Biremo
    • COO, Mind+ Facilitation Company Limited
    'Brilliant jerks' are found in almost all companies and businesses that are thriving financially. This is because they are improving the figures of such companies at the detriment of the company's values and effective team work.
    Most business owners will find it difficult to let them go thereby causing frosty relationships between colleagues and thereafter damage the values and teamwork of the companies.
    My take on this would be first to identify this 'brilliant jerks', recommend them for trainings that will improve them, secondly, carry out team appraisal (for the brilliant jerks team if they work in a team). Thirdly, you check out for improvement on their part. However, if after these steps there are no improvement, then the 'brilliant jerks' can be shown the way out before the attitude ruin the company's image and values.
    • David Physick
    • Consultant, Glowinkowski International
    Wasn't Welch himself a brilliant jerk whose caused much pain and distress for people? So 12 years to deal with people out-jerking him? And what are the values that prevail nowadays - isn't all about the bottom line, doing whatever it takes to appease the speculators of Wall Street and London's Canary Wharf? If trust, decency, integrity, honesty, humanity really prevailed would many of today's problems be so severe. Perhaps the answer to Jim's question concerns re-framing it by considering how to encourage those brilliant jerk who are prepared to tell the emperor is wearing no clothes particularly those fashioned to fil his/her pocket with vast share options at the expense of many others. It all depends on the lens through which you view the world as to whom you regard as a brilliant jerk or just a plain old jerk!
    • Ganesh Ramakrishnan
    • HR, OFSS
    The brilliant jerk is a common "feature" of the particular form of corporate organization that has evolved in the same environment where we now have narrow focus on quarterly profits, media-focused charismatic leaders and extremely skewed pay structures.

    Jerks (in general) may perhaps be handled as suggested in previous comments but the brilliant jerk is a special subset. It is incorrect to frame this problem as that of super high performers whose "quirks" need to be tolerated by mediocre others. Usually the brilliant jerk is an above average or very high performer, who deploys his/her superior capabilities in manipulative and adversary tactics designed to put down others. Our minds are ill-equipped to evaluate opportunity costs so we rarely quantify what is lost and what else could have been achieved if the time spent and lost by the organization due to such behavior had been channelized productively.

    Are brilliant jerks merely driven by personality traits as moulded by upbringing? Are they a product of a corporate culture where excessive internal competition is encouraged? It could likely be a combination of these, along with a clueless or helpless top leadership.

    Just like bullying and hazing (ragging) in educational institutions and corporal punishment (spanking) at home and at school have recently been recognized in the larger social sphere as undesirable and made illegal, we need more efforts like Prof. Sutton's and this forum, to bring this topic out for open discussion and help weed it out. Mere exhortation with espoused corporate values (which often differ from values-in-practice) will not suffice. An institutional and cultural transformation is called for. It will succeed if we also make progress on the other larger aspects of executive incentives and corporate social responsibility.
    • Sanjeev
    • Technical Manager
    It is widely faced challenge in organization to manage "Brilliant Jerks".
    There are two major objectives
    1. Drive brilliancy in gaining business objectives with positive direction without killing individuals instinct to do and deliver best.
    2. Managing the balance in team and precautionary actions to avoid conflicts and -ve after effects to ensure diverse people growth.

    To achieve above stated two objectives, It is very important to know the psychology of an individual i.e. identify their interest areas, pace of learning towards accepting changes.

    There are many more techniques and methods but it is required that managers has capability to understand and identify traits which can give favor and edge to their team. It is a matter of fact that everyone has different ways of understanding thus manager is required to bring their understanding to their level first and bring action plan.

    One of the effective method is described below:

    It is observed that many of these type of people are quick learner and love to work in fast paced environment. They focus more on most difficult and challenging tasks. These people have same expectation from every individual associated with them either as team member or manager. These type of people get easily managed and provide best output if they are made part of their same or higher skilled team members or manager. This is the theory of Managing Masters by Master of Masters.
    • David White
    • Well Engineering Manager, Nexen
    Type 4's are typically very focused on objectives and as others have said "hitting their numbers". In my experience the most important thing is making sure that all of the numbers are identified, ranked and scored. Culture measures must be defined and this is where it gets tough. It's easy to define the result that is wanted (usually profit) but the inputs required to get the result require more thought and are typically tougher to measure and report in real time. We're not that far from the tree, we respond to rewards, so it's important to reward the behaviours that you want not the result. The worst thing to do is to reward the heroes that pull us out of an emergency and ignore the folks that keep things going smoothly. It's easy to see the heroes.
    • The Contrarian
    • Director, University setting
    People are jerks because it has paid off for them in the past, so the manager must stop their jerkiness from paying off now.

    We all learn to get what we need from others one way or another such as belligerence, criticism, humor, denial, compliance, kindness, etc. The manager has to ratchet up the pain (dissonance) or change will not occur. People use the same old skills in every situation.

    Make it painful for the jerk and then let them decide whether it's worth it to change or live in pain, or find another job.

    The reason we don't do that more is because it is also very painful for the manager. It requires confrontation, documentation, being picky, warning, investing time in an obnoxious person, noticing and rewarding new behaviors you want. Not much different than raising a teenager!

    In my industry customer service is king. If a jerk sacrifices service it's far less painful to get rid of them than try to change them. When you finally get rid of them co-workers will say "it's about time, what took you so long?"
    • Edward Hare
    • Retired Director, Strategy and Planning, Fortune 250 Manufacturer
    I'm from the school that believes you can't change a leopard's spots. Whether the brilliant jerk is worth tolerating is situational....but doing so has organizational consequences. Some of which you won't like very much.