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How to handle a wayward genius

30 June 2014  

They say that genius and madness go hand in hand, and perhaps events at soccer’s World Cup illustrate this point.


But how do you cope in business with someone who is extremely talented, who delivers great things and yet is capable of acts of equally extreme folly?

Living with a maverick on your team presents a lot of challenges. For a start you have to live with the success that they bring, but delivering goals is what your team is about, so having someone in your ranks that can pull off extraordinary things can make life a lot easier while you have them with you. Their success can also rub off well on their colleagues and everyone’s game comes up a little as you all bask in the reflected glory.

That assumes that great results is all you are getting though, because if you have the moments of madness to cope with then all hell can break loose in the team. Doing something stupid that has a negative impact on team results will hit everyone, possibly financially if there is a knock-on effect through to a bonus payment and that is not going to cheer people too much. But the next problem is in the way that you deal with the issue.

There are those who will say that excesses go with the territory and that you should allow people some slack and accept the consequences of such behaviour. There will be others who will ruthlessly crack down on any such excess and there will be still others who want to do the right things, but will make a complete hash of it – usually by trying to impose some sort of sanction and then backing off. So who is right here and what should you do when you have a wayward genius on the team?

Many years ago I was recruiting for a team to nationally implement a computer system and needed a right-hand person to help me. HR offered a few names of possible candidates from within our organisation, but I was relatively new there myself and none of the names was familiar, although one stood out as a possible and I mentioned to a trusted mentor that I felt this was the man for the job. The reaction was an immediate warning not to touch this person with a barge pole as he had a reputation as a troublemaker and had been moving from department to department, causing havoc on the way.

Undaunted, I asked the guy to come and see me and we got on well enough for me to take him on. He was to work for me for the next 14 years except for a short break where he got promoted into another department; he lasted less than a year there and I took him back rather than see him fired. Was he trouble? Oh yes, but only if you let him get bored because then his mental capabilities would wander off into mischief. As long as he was kept occupied and challenged, he made a consistent contribution and showed regular flashes of brilliance – not only in his own job, but also in helping his colleagues.

Managing problem people takes effort, but that effort can be worth it in terms of what they do for you. The crux of the matter is where you draw the line though, because you need the rest of your team with you too, and if they think that one person gets preferential treatment you will lose them all. If you cannot keep a check on your wayward staff, then you have to let them go because they will bring the whole team down.

Where you draw the line is your choice, but think about how people inside and outside your organisation will perceive your actions because your credibility is a stake.

John Bowen is an FM consultant

http://thatconsultantbloke.wordpress.com/