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Managing brilliant jerks at workplace


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Managing brilliant jerks at workplace


In any organisation, there are the brilliant jerks who are characterised by a high intelligence quotient and a low emotional quotient. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

In life, you do not get to choose your neighbour. The same is the case with colleagues at the workplace.

Getting a job is a competition, a game of chess somewhat, where the most promising candidate is handpicked to join a workplace comprising employees with different personalities.

In any organisation, there is usually the quiet, the go-getters, the lazy, the gossipers, and the narcissists. And then there are the brilliant jerks, characterised by a high intelligence quotient and a low emotional quotient.

These employees are very skilled, risk-takers, charming, and charismatic. They are performance drivers, often getting the numbers their employers need to stay ahead in highly competitive sectors.

Experts, however, warn that success comes at a cost and unless these brilliant jerks are properly managed, they may prove ruinous to the whole organisation.

Majda Kabunge, a human resource business partner at Texas Energy says that the talented jerk has offensive, disrespectful mannerism that makes it difficult for a team to perform without conflict.

“They are enablers of the toxic environment. They are often very unprofessional and inappropriate when relating with other people,” she says.

How can you identify a talented jerk?

These employees are erratic. They throw unwarranted tantrums and outbursts.

“They act and think later, and even then, it is not a guarantee they will think of their actions,” explains Ms Kabunge.


Majda Kabunge, a Human Resource Business Partner at Texas Energy. FILE PHOTO | POOL

She adds that they lack empathy, are self-centred, self-righteous, and are very arrogant.

They are psychological bullies and if as their manager you are not a strong-willed person, Ms Kabunge warns that you might indulge them in their pity party.

These employees are overachievers and often set unrealistic targets and when a task fails, they never take responsibility.

“The problem with setting unrealistic targets is bleeding on people who did not hurt you,” says Ms Kabunge.

Alex Musau, a principal consultant with Esquire Consultants adds that brilliant jerks are people-oriented only when dealing with like-minded people —those who are focused on their goals.

“They can conceal the other side and warm their way into employment. Some are two-faced,” he says.

How do you deal with them?

It is human’s nature to mirror leaders at the top, so if the leader is toxic, these brilliant jerks will have a pedestal to ‘excel.’

On the flip side, if the organisation is not toxic, these people find it hard to prosper. Ultimately, Mr Musau says, “It depends on what the organisation is promoting. Results at any cost or those that are holistic.”

Thanks to them being goal-driven, these badly behaved geniuses speak the language of the panel and can facilitate a faster U-turn or double, if not triple, the profits or deliverables needed.

However, at the heart of dealing with brilliant jerks is ensuring that the organisation has the right culture.

Mr Musau advises that it should be a delicate balance between creating the right environment for everyone to thrive and aggressively pursuing the results needed to succeed.

When in board meetings, these brilliant jerks can take the centre stage, but it is prudent for the leader to give a voice to other colleagues.


Alex Musau, a principal consultant with Esquire Consultants. FILE PHOTO | POOL

It may be impossible to change their personalities but managers can change the environment by not rewarding their behaviours.

“It is a classic carrot and stick approach where since performance does not occur in a vacuum, you do not gauge it as black and white,” says Mr Musau.

With this, you are able to reward their results but in a calm manner, and encourage them to be empathetic towards others.

Alternatively, you can change the work environment, train or coach them.

Although it is in their nature to wreak havoc on others, you must insist that the work be done as a team for cooperation. This strategy might tame them.

Selective avoidance is another option.

“The snake’s nature is to bite and while dealing with a talented jerk, selective avoidance is key,” he said.

Mr Musau adds that at times you have to engage in direct, candid discussions with them and talk about the behaviour instead of attacking them.

Since the talented jerks are enablers of toxicity, you will find that employees working under or with the badly behaved genius will frequently miss work.

Ms Kabunge shares that often these colleagues will ask for sick offs and even leave the organisation without looking back.

She notes that these people will suck in the energy of the whole department and they are not worth the headache.

“You cannot train attitude, you can only teach skills,” she says.

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