The New York Times recently published an illuminating article entitled What Do You Do With Brilliant Jerk? 

The piece struck a chord with me because the process the article described — a brilliant founder, essential to the creation of an organization, eventually becomes a thorn in its side — is something we see all the time in our work with practices. The emergence of the Brilliant Jerk in medical practices is a natural and predictable consequence of changing demands as practices grow. When practices change, personality traits that were invaluable can become highly problematic, e.g., a brilliant clinician who cannot artfully interact with his colleagues or staff on operational or  business matters.

The plight of the Brilliant Jerk is not enviable. Practice profitability is a function of the efficiency and productivity of the entire clinical and administrative staff. For example, Brilliant Jerks often fail to appreciate management guru Peter Drucker’s advice, “Accept the fact that we have to treat almost anybody as a volunteer.” The Brilliant Jerk’s behavior is generally at odds with a harmonious and efficient operation because they fail to appreciate the value of others within the organization.

It isn’t easy to contemplate whether you’ve become the Brilliant Jerk, but it is certainly worth considering, since your career and financial well-being are at stake. First, consider how many of your professional relationships are strained relative to your colleagues’. Second, consider how much you have adapted to the changing needs of your organization.  If you are finding yourself in strained business relationships within an organization that has experienced considerable change while you have the same attitudes and “standard operating procedures,” well, it’s quite possible you’re becoming your practice’s Brilliant Jerk.

If you suspect that you are the Brilliant Jerk, you have an excellent opportunity to test your brilliance in adopting an urgently-needed program of remediation. An objective assessment from a consultant that has the breadth of experience to give you some practical advice, or perhaps from a career coach, can be a good place to start. And you might be surprised how much you get out of the effort: improving relationships with your colleagues and staff will improve your profitability while also reinvigorating your enjoyment of your career.


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