person wearing brown hoodie
Team Building and Leadership

Brilliant Jerks

A brilliant jerk is a type of person with unique talents and expertise who can solve complex technical problems and get things done as an individual. Such a person may not fit well within a team setting and can negatively impact the team dynamics if not managed and coached in the right way.

Brilliant jerks have specialized knowledge and unique capabilities that enable them to solve complex problems with great accuracy and the highest standard. This makes them an essential part of teams that need to deliver complex solutions. On the other side, they are great individual performers rather than team players. They are very focused on mastering their craft and solving problems. Their unique talent and advanced knowledge give them the advantage of dominating decision-making and ignoring others’ opinions. As a result, other team members might feel isolated and less valued. Eventually, this can negatively impact the team dynamics and degrades team morale.

So an obvious question may come to our mind – should we accept a brilliant jerk in a team in the first place? Ideally, no. However, due to their specialized knowledge, lack of capability within the team, and urgency of delivery, we may need to have such team members on a temporary or permanent basis.

There are some strategies that we can follow to better manage and coach a brilliant jerk.

Firstly, try to know them very well personally and understand what motivates them. What do they need to do their best work?

Secondly, coach them on team values and norms. We can get better insights into their current perception of team values by asking questions about what these values mean to them. And set clear expectations on acceptable and unacceptable behaviors by examples.

Thirdly, have a shared understanding with them about how success looks like from both individual and team perspectives. Help them to understand that everyone’s contributions within the team are valuable and matter for the team’s success.

Finally, by setting the right boundaries, expectations, and touchpoints for regular feedback, we may transform a brilliant jerk into a great team player, mentor, and enabler. This can help in uplifting the overall team capability and delivering great results.