Why You’re Better Off Without That Arrogant Genius Employee
I wrote before on when to fire someone, which is a difficult topic for most managers. One of the readers later told me that he would not fire the “diva” employee (has great output, but bad attitude). The reader has this brilliant technical employee working in his startup with a “personality problem”, but is holding on to the employee because he is critical for the startup’s success.
I couldn’t disagree more! And I will tell you why.
The Argument For Keeping The Genius
First, lets talk about the argument for keeping the genius.
- The genius delivers great results, which in some cases is very unique. That output helps the company achieve significantly better results or maybe even survive.
- Some might even argue that the genius raises the bar for the rest of the team.
This was even popularized in the hit movie Iron Man where Tony Stark, the genius engineer/business owner who becomes the super hero Iron Man, is initially rejected from joining the special superhero group S.H.I.E.L.D due to his arrogant and rebellious personality. He is later brought into the team, in the movie Avengers, when earth is in danger and they need all the fire power. Of course in the movie, the genius pulls through and saves the world.
Another example is the hit sitcom “House” with this brilliant doctor who solves seemingly impossible medical cases, but has a horrible attitude with his patients, peers, and boss.
I’m sure we can come up with many more examples. Moving on…
The Genius Defined
Lets take another step back and make sure we are talking about the same person.
So to be clear, I’m not talking about a person who ruffles a few feathers by challenging the status quo. You need people like that on your teams to avoid having a “group think” problem. I’m talking about someone else.
I’m not talking about the employee who is unhappy with an incident (e.g. not getting a promotion) and acts out in frustration. You can address these issues.
Here are the characteristics for this mad genius.. the uncontrollable diva… the muscle with trouble (you get the idea):
- Delivers great work (significantly better than average)
- The work is important for the company (often key to its success)
- Has attitude problems that can’t be fixed, coached, or contained easily… it’s “part of the package”.
That “genius” can be the software developer who comes up with great code… when s/he feels like it. It can be the brilliant scientist with a personality so abrasive that even lab rats don’t like working with him/her. It can be a brilliant person in the creative team at an advertising agency that “rubs customers the wrong way” and clashes with colleagues (condescending, disrespectful, etc), but comes up with incredible ideas.
Here is Why You Should Let Go
I say you are better letting go of the genius than to hold on.
Here is why:
1- Negative effect on the team: The friction with the rest of the team often causes a drop in overall performance. People spend more time arguing and less working.
2- You waste your time: By spending so much time “taming the beast” and minimizing the friction with other team mates and clients, you are taking away from your most precious resource… your time. You are better off spending your time developing your team and product to serve customers better.
3- You compromise your values by bending the rules for the genius. If you preach a value such as being humble and turn a blind eye to the genius’ arrogance, then you are compromising your values.
4- You lose credibility with your team when you bend the rules for the genius.
5- You put all your eggs in one basket: By making your company so reliant on that person, you put yourself in his/her mercy. If s/he decides to leave, you are in trouble… and have a team that resents you.
6- You get your arm twisted: S/he might decide to twist your arm for a salary increase or other privileges when you are so dependent on him/her.
7- You lose other talent: When other high achievers (might not be as brilliant) perceive you favoring the genius, they will look for somewhere else they feel will appreciate them more… without the headache of dealing with difficult colleagues.
8- You lose the fun: Most managers will tell you that one of the most annoying parts of the job is dealing with “people problems”. It just sucks the fun out of work. Some entrepreneurs like Tony Hsieh and Derek Sivers sold their companies in large part because of “people problems”.
I would rather have a team that performs as a combined genius than a broken team dependent on a lone star.
What About You?
So the question comes to you now. Do you keep that employee for the results and live with the problems? Or do you cut the cord and live with losing out on that work?