What to do when a top performer acts like a jerk.

Sometimes the most brilliant people in our companies are also jerks. What do you do about it? These employees may make the business a lot of money and/or perform well in their roles, but they can destroy a team. They might be the best salesperson you have, the brightest engineer, but no one wants to work with them. Their attitude stinks.

Deep in your heart, you know they have to change or go. They hold the company hostage. People on their team feel demoralized, abused and unheard. You might even get a knot in your stomach whenever you confront this person. There could also be frequent turnover around this employee.

The Brilliant Jerk is still around because, at the core, you’re scared. You’ve probably worried the company can’t rebound from losing such a key player. What will happen to sales? Will engineering be able to pick up the slack?

The good news is, 100% of the time, dealing with the Brilliant Jerk is worth it. Brilliant Jerks keep everyone else down. They keep the Team Players, The Wonder and even The Rock Stars down. Brilliant Jerks can either turn into Rock Stars, by improving their attitude, or they can go.

(How do you know what type of employee you have? Download the free Dando Right Idea, Wrong Person Matrix.)

Removing the Brilliant Jerk is like releasing a pressure valve on the potential of every other employee. It’s amazing how a Brilliant Jerk can hold a company and worse, individuals down.

We’ve seen it time and time again. Whenever a Brilliant Jerk leaves a company, it lifts a burden and improves the performance of the whole company — especially those working for the Jerk.

The company can be completely different with the Brilliant Jerk gone. It’s easier to have honest conversations. Employees will be happier. It’s a better work environment. Even better, you’ll see it in the financial results, customer satisfaction and, heck, you’ll probably see it in your own self-satisfaction.

Nothing affects the happiness, health and wealth of employees more than leaders. If you have a Brilliant Jerk in a leadership position — how does that affect the happiness, health and wealth of the employees reporting to this person? Having a Brilliant Jerk is a serious issue that must be addressed immediately.

KNOW
If you have them, you already know. Deep in your heart, you know the Brilliant Jerks in your organization that need to be dealt with directly.

FEEL
Don’t let fear be your companion when it comes to making tough people decisions. It’s hard to let someone go who is driving results, but it’s worth it.

DO
Have the tough conversation to let the Brilliant Jerk know how you feel, be clear about your expectations and give them a time frame by which you expect Rock Star performance. If this does not work, do not delay. Exit them from the business. Explain to the team why they are being let go. Set the expectation that this type of behavior is not acceptable.

Finally, dealing with Brilliant Jerks is not a theory or novel concept that “might work out.” If you need encouragement or real life stories of how dealing directly with Brilliant Jerks works out, simply ask us. If you have a story of how it worked out, please share it in the comments. Don’t use company names or people’s names, it’s not helpful.