Business

How leaders can manage ‘brilliant jerks’



In almost 25 years of working with leaders—and greater than a decade of one-on-one teaching and advisory to Fortune 500 CEOs—there may be one challenge raised by nearly each chief in each setting: What to do in regards to the good jerk?

Netflix popularized the phrase “brilliant jerk” in an early tradition manifesto that made its method across the web, however no matter we name them, the query is normally the identical. As a pacesetter, how do I handle people whose supply of terrific outcomes (measured quantitatively) exists in tandem with horrible interpersonal or cultural influence (measured qualitatively, if in any respect)? 

These behaviors manifest in numerous methods. Sometimes, their perpetrators are flashy and loud, taking concepts and air from the room. Sometimes, they’re perfectionistic and manipulative, impressing others till ultimately turning on them. Sometimes, they specific huge charisma that makes them liked by clients and loathed by colleagues.  

I do know good jerks as a result of I’ve had them on my groups, I’ve labored alongside them, and, on a couple of event, I’ve been one. (I share that with zero delight, solely rigorous honesty.) 

On one’s personal, no particular person is solely or wholly liable for battle in an organizational system. Every member of a group performs a job in creating or permitting the circumstances that allow a colleague to behave poorly or disrespectfully.  

So, why do folks behave badly? Because they’ll. 

People who succeed and are rewarded for delivering nice outcomes accomplish that in the best way that’s best and most evident to them, usually by default. Even within the face of robust suggestions, they’ll hold doing it—particularly amid repeated reward—in cultures that refuse to sentence their accompanying habits as unethical.

But why would any conscientious chief proceed to reward a group member for a proper “what” however a incorrect “how?”  

Often, it’s as a result of we’re framing the battle as behavioral and particular person, quite than moral and in regards to the whole context. But troublesome choices—like whether or not to let a difficult high-performer go—will be clarified through the use of the three sides of a moral-ethical-role duty triangle.  

Morally, most of us settle for that it’s incorrect to deal with others poorly, particularly colleagues. Ensuring exemplary efficiency is a duty of each management function. So, with two sides of the triangle clear however in battle, the chief ought to look to the third—on this case, ethics. 

“Ethical context” is what we collectively contemplate useful or dangerous, helpful or detrimental, in a given group, setting, or society. Historically, the place efficiency is valued above all in a corporation, what folks delivered mattered extra that how they did it. 

But moral context is dynamic, and issues have modified. Behaviors broadly thought-about acceptable or unacceptable in organizational life immediately are completely different than they had been even a decade in the past. Leaders are as prone to be fired for permitting damaging cultures as they’re for mishandling poor efficiency. 

If contextual ethics can shift over time, so, too, can the chief’s engagement with them. That change calls for that leaders override the facility of historical past and the casual cultures and networks which have allowed poor behaviors to thrive. That’s not simple–tradition is often deeply embedded —nevertheless it’s actually potential, with a number of clear actions.

  1. Review your official articulation (and subsequent repetition—or lack thereof) of your group’s ethics. Do you’ve an ethics assertion? Is it reside, or does it reside in a file someplace? Ethics are formally communicated by way of written paperwork, firm insurance policies, and official statements, however to be taken severely, they must be repeated and referenced usually.  
  2. Examine your unofficial “leadership signals.” Beyond the official coverage, ethics are extra importantly communicated by way of methods of reward and efficiency administration, assembly norms and accepted in-and-out-of-the-room behaviors, shadow energy networks, and private relationships which can be decoupled from the organizational hierarchy. What alerts are you sending about what’s moral right here? You’re going to make errors; everybody does. Whether and the way you acknowledge, apologize, and recuperate out of your errors is much more essential than having made the error to start with.
  3. Enroll management champions. Rather than feeding extra consideration to the bad-behaving huge deliverers, make investments time and house in these colleagues in any respect ranges who create psychological security, function mannequin nice efficiency, and have interaction in productive, respectful habits. Once you’ve enrolled others who’re philosophically aligned to the moral context that you simply want to create, lean on them; share your expectations of a mutually created, optimistic dynamic after which give them house to indicate their exemplary management.
  4. When you’re exiting somebody for unethical habits, make your reasoning clear. You don’t must violate confidentiality or share particulars to convey {that a} chief’s exit is, as one firm put it in a current 8-Okay submitting, “unrelated to the Company’s financial reporting and business performance.” Make it clear what issues, and the total extent of how everybody can be held to account.
  5. Drop the false dichotomy. Under the brand new psychological contract that exists between employees and their workplaces because the COVID-19 pandemic, how we work is as essential as what we do. Every particular person should ship each good efficiency and good behaviors, with a mixture of clear accountability and unwavering help from everybody else within the system. It’s not “either/or”–it’s “both/and.” That retains everybody engaged and feeling supported.  

Courageous management doesn’t require a troublesome choice between retaining the brilliance and eliminating the jerk. It as a substitute dials up a bolder and way more relentless communication and re-evaluation of moral context at each flip.  


Eric Pliner is the CEO of YSC Consulting and writer of Difficult Decisions.






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