“Turning Brilliant Jerks Into Authentic Leaders” special guest Katrina Burrus

What do you mean when you talk about brilliant jerks?

A billion jerk is somebody that is a high achiever. Usually very bright because they’re brilliant in their area of expertise. They give big results for companies because they’re very driven, but it causes a lot of turnover and stress in the company. It’s because usually they are interpersonally blind.

When you get brilliant people sometimes, they just focus on the brilliance and that often tends to feed the ego. Making the behaviour worse. The question is do we do we run with the inputs of what they produce and what they do or do we go we need to sort this out.

Sometimes they fire them because they have caused too much turnover, too many complaints about the employees. Sometimes their roughness even affects customer service. For example, there could be a heart surgeon that was very sought after and the hospital wanted very much to bring him in because he has such international aura. So, they bring him in and, indeed, he’s a very good heart surgeon. But the nurses complain his bedside manner is horrible for example, so that could be a case.

These brilliant jerks don’t understand why people are complaining because it is their blind spot. So usually one needs to bring that perspective through caching. Saying we find that your approach is a bit raw with people and that too many people are leaving your department. So we propose a coach to guide you. At times they get offended. They think this is a betrayal here. It brings out two types of such people.

One who is put off by having a coach. The other is where they get offended that they haven’t got one. So when they’re challenged then they don’t actually want one. They just want the ego recognition of it.

Then once you start showing them the areas within themselves they need to take a look at that’s when they don’t necessarily react to the case kindly. I had an English executive that I coached and he introduced me to all his office because having a coach was like a prestige item. I also coach a French executive and she would even take me around the office but never introduced me because then she would have to explain that she has a coach. So you have to see whether the company perceives coaches as a remedial or as developmental or as a perk and that also helps to know how this leader will receive you.

I would say the brilliant jerks generally don’t think they need it because they are high performers. Despite them being very brilliant there’s an angle that they don’t see and usually that angle is the interpersonal one.

In the beginning you can ask them why do you think your I’m here? That’s to see if anyone has spoken to them about this issue. If the boss has spoken to them you can see if things have been clearly said or not. Sometimes it’s necessary to have a pre conversation that has not taken place. The other conversation is around the question of can this coach really help me or not?

What I do is not tell them that they need to be coached. I just ask them what the reasons might be that I’m there. Through that I get awareness. Then is there negative information that might be deterring them from the career. That is in the organization. If they don’t know I could propose to do some research work for them how they’re perceived. What would make the relationships more productive and then see if they still want to do a coaching or not? They’re usually a high-powered individual and very smart so I let them make a decision but I guard the objectives.

It’s critical to get the feedback because sometimes it’s a surprise and other times expected.

It just depends who it is and how they perceive the world as you rightly mentioned before I think that sometimes they know they’re creating havoc, but they think their ability they can get away with it.

It’s one thing to be aware. It’s another to actually change your behavior to something more productive because there is a certain type of behavior that made them very successful. So they’re not going to release that behavior very easily. They really have to see and have support in those behavioral changes that will get them to be even more successful than what they are today. Be able to see the the bigger picture of how to help the people in the company and how to help the company overall and not just about their department or their revenues.

Brilliant jerks are very bright, but feel that they have to achieve constantly. They have a huge pressure on themselves. When someone achieves and does not fail it acts as a trigger. It’s like a threat. It’s like it has a direct impact on them and their reputation and status. So they get very angry and fight. It becomes emotional where they criticize the person not the task and they don’t give them feedback. The person that didn’t make the job or did correctly succeed. They don’t give them the feedback because they’re so annoyed that will help them succeed. And I think that’s a big difference between a brilliant jerk and an inspiring leader. The brilliant jerk comes from a gut reaction perspective and has a very negative in a sense reaction because they feel threatened to some degree and the more inspirational leader really adapts. His leadership agility has this person failed because they’re incompetent or they’re not competent enough. They need to develop certain things do succeed the project or are they not motivated? A good leader explains what is acceptable and not acceptable then the leader themselves just need to walk the talk.

I’ve had a leader that is so smart that he would get aggravated with anybody that asks a question that he thought was really not very well thought out. But sometimes they need to just be aware that something that’s extremely easy for them is really a challenge for somebody else so. That’s the key. It’s to focus on themselves rather than the wider picture of people around them. That they can succeed better as a leader if they make all their team perform better. 

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About the author, Ross

Behavioural leadership coach committed to bringing more soul into business and reducing a leader's stress in managing their people

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