Technical Genius Needs to Play Well with Others? Ask Madeleine

March 30, 2024 Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Dear Madeleine,

I am a regional president for a global financial services company. About five years ago, I hired a whiz kid to inject some creativity and innovation into our use of technology and how we approach our regional customer acquisition. He is technically a genius in terms of IQ, and he excels at grasping key ideas and creating plans to execute them. When he started, he was also very good at creating relationships and influencing people to try new things with a minimum of drama. He quickly rose to be invited to join the leadership team. The projects he has spearheaded have significantly improved our business (which has historically trailed behind other, larger regions), and some of his ideas have been selected to be applied globally. I truly give him full credit for all of the success, and he has been well compensated for his efforts.


I heard through the grapevine that at the last big leadership team meeting, Whiz Kid behaved very badly. (This was the meeting where the business unit leaders were tasked with aligning their goals with the strategy designed by the executive team, which includes other regional presidents.) He was heard by multiple people saying that he is the only strategic person in the entire global organization, including our CEO (who is world famous). He was negative about our strategic initiatives.

In our last one-on-one, WK told me he was insulted that he hasn’t been invited to join the executive team and he thinks he should be paid twice what he is making. In addition, he has abdicated from execution efforts on many of his recent projects, claiming that they aren’t a good use of his time.

I can’t help but feel that I have created a monster. How do I reel WK back in and get him to see that, as valuable as he is, he still has a lot to learn about leading others?

Created a Monster


Dear Created a Monster,

This is a classic. It is easy for a young person who comes into an organization and adds a ton of value to miss the memo that they don’t know what they don’t know—yet. When someone is a genius and can do things no one else can do, what incentive do they have to slow down and assess the value of rounding out their edges and making an effort to acquire skills they don’t have?

It sounds like you might have strong opinions about what good leadership looks like, as do I. But I also know those opinions are based on our experiences, and Whiz Kid hasn’t had those experiences. You and I may believe he has a lot to learn (and he probably does), but he is only going to learn those things by hitting the ceiling that stops his success—unless what he knows and does well is so valuable that nothing stops him. There are plenty of examples of that in the news.

Look. You can absolutely have a conversation with Whiz Kid where you share your thoughts about leadership skills and what it means to be a good organizational citizen. He may or may not get it. He may or may not care. You don’t have much control over that. So you must be prepared to give him what he wants, reach some kind of compromise, or risk losing him to another opportunity.

Possibly you can find a way to create some kind of consulting contract so he can work part-time with your group and find other opportunities with other businesses to do the things he does best. Many geniuses who can’t or won’t play nice in the sandbox with others end up being lone wolf consultants.

This means you will have a decision to make. Hopefully, you can find a creative way to leverage his genius without giving him free reign to wreak havoc with your people.

By all means, do try to share your wisdom on topics such as paying dues, humility, and what makes a person successful in the long term. You may be able to “reel him in,” as you say. I suspect, however, that it won’t work. In my experience, the only thing that catalyzes people to change is when the pain or cost of not changing is greater than the pain or cost of changing.

You didn’t create the monster; the monster was always there. All you can do is try to engineer things so that you can continue to leverage the best from him—and, for as long as you can, mitigate the damage he might do until he jumps ship to test his wits elsewhere. He will find his limits eventually. Everyone does.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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