Intelligence is obviously highly valued by employers. At the same time, the brightest people can be among the most difficult to manage. That difficulty is heightened if they’re used to getting exceptions and special treatment due to their high performance.In an interview with Adam Bryant at The New York Times, former Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy described how he tried to create a culture centered around good service and good manners. He perfectly describes the sometimes negative impact the smartest people can have on an organisation:
“If I had to sum it up, it would be about being generous at work rather than selfish. It is amazing how often you see people who can’t help themselves — because of their ambition or their insecurities or whatever — and that they’re basically selfish and they take out rather than give.
For some people, that’s a transition that they have to make, and not everybody can make it. Sometimes the brightest find it the hardest to make that transition because they’ve always been better than the people around them. They find it hard to trust the people around them to do the work. They think, ‘Well, I know best.’ When you see organisations that struggle, it’s mainly that people can’t trust.”
Sometimes the brightest people, whether it’s their intention or not, can be seen as trying to put themselves above everybody else or advance at others’ expense. Their colleagues feel marginalized, which leads to a culture that’s less collaborative, less trusting, and centered on individuals.
The challenge for managers is to create an environment where people have enough in common that they feel like they trust each other, and where the norm is always respect. High performance or intelligence can’t be grounds for exceptions, or it doesn’t end up working for anybody.
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