One of the biggest challenges you’ll face as an entrepreneur is managing team and personality dynamics. Any small business environment will have a mix of personalities present, and studies show that entrepreneurs need to display flexible leadership styles that an adapt to suit a range of situations and personalities if they are to lead their teams successfully. You’ll need to give some employees space and others attention; give some a sense of risk and others a sense of stability; etc.
However, there is one especially challenging type of employee that every entrepreneur will probably have to face at some point: the difficult, but brilliant, employee. You know the type: They are uniquely gifted – but also socially awkward, or chronically disorganized, or unreliable, or otherwise a source of perpetual frustration.
So, what do you do with this kind of employee? Do you kick them to the curb and lose their brilliance to the competition, or retain the worker at the expense of team cohesion?
The good news is that you don’t have to choose either of these destructive options. A more productive approach would be to manage the troublemaking genius effectively. That way, you can neutralize the impact of the difficult behavior while harnessing and fully benefiting from their brilliance.
How do you do that? Here are a few tips to help:
1. Don’t Give Them Special Treatment
If you make too many concessions to accommodate or even pacify your difficult-but-brilliant employee, you could be seen as playing favorites, which is one of the top concerns employees have about their bosses. Favoritism – whether perceived or actual – can create jealousy and resentment in the team, thereby destroying the very balance you are trying to preserve.
If you do make a concession to accommodate your difficult/brilliant employee – such as allowing them to work at home for one day a week – you should extend the same option to the rest of the staff in order to preserve team harmony.
2. Be Direct: Let the Employee Know Which of Their Behaviors Are Causing Problems
Many employees don’t know that they are considered difficult or distracting. They are just being themselves, and they might be genuinely confused by the reactions they get from their colleagues. Sit down and explain to the employee how certain behaviors that they engage in negatively impact others. The employee cannot change or moderate their behavior unless they know there is a problem.
3. Give Them Structure
This bit of advice is particularly relevant to dealing with that “mad scientist” type of worker. You know: When you can get them to do work, they’re amazing – but their chronic disorganization means they’re often late, missing important files, forgetting critical details, etc.
These types of employees do not thrive in free and open environments. They need a little more structure than that. Perhaps you can give them that structure by scheduling regular check-ins with them? That way, you can keep them on track without subjecting your more self-disciplined employees to stifling routines.
4. Give Them a Real Challenge
If you have a worker who is brilliant but cannot seem to stop questioning everything, you may be dealing with someone who is bored and in need of a challenge.
The answer to this problem is to fully engage the employee and fully utilize their problem-solving capacities by giving them your most challenging assignments. They’ll have less time to complain as they are focused on finding solutions for the problems they face. They’ll use their brainpower to overcome the obstacles – and probably learn some humility while they are at it.
5. Isolate Them
If you can’t change or moderate the brilliant worker’s difficult behavior, a further option may be to isolate them, either physically or operationally.
For example, if they are someone who works hard but gets easily distracted by people in the office, you might move them to a corner, give them the option of working at home at key times, or put them on smaller projects that don’t require much collaboration – all of which will reduce the opportunity for distraction.
There’s no straightforward answer to dealing with a brilliant-but-difficult employee. It certainly makes sense to develop a flexible leadership style that accommodates all sorts of workers, but, at some point, you will have to draw a line. If the negative aspects of the employee’s behavior far outweigh their contributions to the business, you may have to dismiss the worker for the good of the organization – no matter how brilliant they might be.