How Great Leaders Handle Geniuses


In ten years as a recruiter working with several high performing and often well known leaders, I’ve finally got a confession to make.

Something I’ve known for a number of years but have been reluctant to state openly.

Something, perhaps leaders (and possibly even followers) might be surprised to hear.

Here goes.


Gosh, that feels like a weight of my shoulders!

Think about that statement for a second.

The very people that most leaders wish to have on their teams, are the same people that they’re least likely to be able to manage.

We see it commonly in the everyday world around us. Highly intelligent students who challenge established teachers and end up becoming alienated. Outstanding young sportspeople who fail to reach their full potential. Disruptive and pioneering thinkers who get neglected by the corporate world and who have to eventually set-up their own companies in order to be heard.

You see the thing is, being a genius and being disruptive often come hand in hand. Often, these individuals can be a nightmare to manage. Requiring a special set of leadership skills.

However the rewards can be well worth it.

Here are some ways how great leaders handle geniuses.

They accept they’ll be challenged

Successful leadership is often about control.

Especially when teams are large or situations are complex, it’s natural to insist that processes and protocols are followed. Otherwise things would become chaotic very quickly.

However when it comes to handling the special talents of a genius, often it’s essential to make exceptions.

By their very definition, a genius looks at things differently. They are going to challenge the status quo. They’ll not be prepared to accept things until they’ve questioned you comprehensively. They’ll always believe things can be improved.

And with big ego’s they’ll often feel they know more than you.

Great leaders accept the baggage that comes with a disruptive mind. They realise it’s part of the risk vs benefit equation. Rather than be surprised unexpectedly and take things personally, they are prepared to be challenged and questioned.  Without feeling threatened personally.

Great leaders accept being challenged.

They integrate them

The most important factor to success in the real world is the ability to build relationships with others.

No amount of intelligence, ability or knowledge can compensate for the need to work effectively with others.

Although they naturally need space and freedom to express themselves, contrary to popular belief, even geniuses need to feel loved and part of a team. Purely isolating great minds and making them feel “different” to the rest of the group is never going to work long term.

Not only does it foster resentment from the rest of the team (no-one likes a clever-clogs with a special set of rules), but it also reduces the possibility of collaboration and comaradry.

Great leaders understand that in teamwork there is power. Just like a super-goalscorer needs the rest of the team to support them, geniuses also need a specific role as part of a successful group.

Great leaders create collaboration.

They put them in the right jobs

In ten years as a recruiter, I commonly see matches that were supposedly made in heaven go wrong.

Especially in the large corporates. Each year, businesses desperately do everything they can to secure the most intelligent and innovative young graduates from the best universities, only to see them leave much quicker than expected.

The reason?

Usually because they’ve put these bright young minds in the totally wrong jobs.

A genius in maths is unlikely to be fulfilled as an assistant accountant in a large multi-national. Someone who wants to develop cutting edge products isn’t going to last very wrong simply taking customer requirements as a Business Analyst. Out-of-the-box marketing brains will get frustrated simply analysing consumer data and spreadsheets.

Geniuses often need space to express themselves. Most of the time, they’re only useful at all if they’re in specific situations that require new solutions, innovations or highly unique ability. Otherwise they’re more likely to be a hindrance than a help.

Great leaders understand that one of the key skills to success is understanding what type of role people thrive in. No two people are ever the same, and in the case of highly talented innovators, it’s even more critical to ensure they are in the right environment.

Great leaders create the right environment.


Geniuses are rare.

But finding a leader who can manage them successfully are even rarer.

Great leaders understand that innovators and disruptors often come hand in hand – in order to harness their unique talent requires special skill and experience.

It’s more demanding, but more rewarding too.

How does your leader handle a genius?

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