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by Kirk Dando February 25, 2016

How do you handle it when you have a brilliant jerk (a high-performer with a bad attitude) on your team?

A CEO recently asked me:

“I have got somebody that’s a great performer. But they are just hard to be around. He doesn’t have a great attitude. He’s bringing down the rest of the team, what do I do about this?”

He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last. What he was describing is what I call a “Brilliant Jerk.” There are really only four categories performance, which I’ll explain today.

You’ve got Skill on the horizontal axis. If you high on Skill, you are a great performer. It doesn’t matter the role. It could be accounting, sales, property development engineering, etc.

On the horizontal axis is Will. If you are high on Will, you’ve got a great attitude, you’re up for anything.

High on Skill, High on Will: The Rock Stars
It’s onward an upward with these folks. We can build a great organization that can grow at a fast pace.

Low on Skill, Low on Will: The Wonder.
They are called “The Wonder” because you wonder: what are they doing? What are they contributing?

Low on Skill, High on Will: The Team Player.
This is where it gets difficult. They have great Will, but their performance is starting to fall off. They help everybody on the team be better. But maybe the organization has outgrown their ability. We have to figure out how to get this person into the right box. We have to figure out how to get them back into the rock stars status. Sometimes that means really hard conversations.

It might mean they have to move outside the organization. They might be able to become a rock star in another organization. However, they deserve a second chance in your organization. They deserve the same respect and care that they have shown toward you.

10 on Skill, 0 on Will. The Brilliant Jerk
One that’s really, really hard is the upper left quadrant. Somebody that’s has Skill. Maybe they are incredible at sales. Or, they’re an engineering genius. They have the best ideas. Whatever it might be, they got Skill. But they don’t have the Will. They are for themselves. They don’t care much about the rest of the team.

They’re are kind of horses rear to be around, this is a brilliant jerk. The question is, “What do you do?”

When you have that Brilliant Jerk you need to have a discussion. Hopefully, you don’t quarrel with this individual and you have a trusting relationship. In the best case, you earned benefit of the doubt. The most important thing you can have as C-level executive is benefit of the doubt. At some point, you’ll need it.

It’s hard to have this hard conversation without benefit of the doubt. In this conversation, you need to help them see the big picture. Don’t be cryptic or passive-aggressive. You have to be very direct, caring and thoughtful in this conversation. You have to help them see they have to move over to “Rock Star.”

If the Brilliant Jerk doesn’t become a Rock Star, they have to go. If not, you risk losing the Rock Stars. They start having a lot of back-channel conversations that aren’t healthy.

When you remove the Brilliant Jerks, I have seen Rock Stars perform even better than before. It’s a bold move. That’s why they say it’s lonely at the top. Your decisions will be judged out of context and in a vacuum. As a leader you have to make the decision no one else can.

Do you have a Brilliant Jerk? You know who they are.

Are you picturing them in your mind? If you are going to lead, you need to have this conversation. You need to help these people who want the help the organization go forward. Help the Brilliant Jerk know their attitude is not okay.