81. How “Brilliant Jerks” can affect digital transformation in the Future of Work | Dr Katrina Burrus Author of Managing Brilliant Jerks


Dr. Katrina Burrus | Author of Managing Brilliant Jerks



Welcome to Episode 81 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, featuring industry experts and thought leaders discussing how work is changing and evolving. The Future of Work is NOW.

Dr Katrina Burrus is busy working through Brilliant Jerks with us. You know, a colleague or boss who would be fired if they weren’t so technically qualified, and therefore indispensable.  They can be toxic, abrasive, and demoralizing.

Today we discuss what it takes to transform your workplace by having your brilliant jerks become inspiring leaders by adding EQ to their IQ. We also see how this tricky issue can create criticism. We can all develop more EQ to be Inspiring Leaders.



Katrina Burrus web


Katrina is one of the world’s leading experts on international leadership.  She is a Master Certified Coach, and facilitates a mastermind for CEO’s of international companies. Author of three books: Abrasive LeadersGlobal Nomadic Leaders, and Managing Brilliant Jerks. She’s worked with Nestle, Novartis, and even the United Nations.  She is especially good at helping in Transforming Brilliant Jerks into Inspiring Leaders and/or helping executives succeed in a new assignment. 




[00:00:00] - Katrina Burrus
But by the time they call me in, there usually is a problem. Do they face the problem? That might have to be worked on. But that they know there's a problem, usually they do at that time.

[00:00:17] - Doug Foulkes
Hello and welcome to Episode 81 of Chaos & Rocketfuel: The Future of Work Podcast. Yes, this is the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the Future. It's brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn. I am with Claire Haidar, who's the CEO at WNDYR. Claire, we are busy chatting to Katrina Burrus. What are we talking about today?

[00:00:43] - Claire Haidar
Doug, in this segment two with her, we're actually looking at how the concept of Brilliant Jerks in the workplace translates into the broader environment. I've specifically, in the conversation with her, chosen to call out the fact that there's a certain sensitivity to this topic because of the people who are experiencing working with Brilliant Jerks, but also because of Brilliant Jerks themselves. The sensitivity that is generally being broached around every topic today. We really dive into that and we look at how the concept of the Brilliant Jerk persona relates to wokeism, which is a very big thing in the US right now. Specifically, we look at the #MeTo movement, which is more global. We look at those broader political nuances and how the concept of the Brilliant Jerk Persona plays into those.

[00:01:46] - Doug Foulkes
Let's get stuck into the second part of our conversation with Katrina.

[00:01:50] - Claire Haidar
Katrina, I'd like to take this conversation into a bit of a different direction. I want to look at it through the lens of the current political climate that we find ourselves in. The reason why I think this is a really important piece of this conversation to have is because there's a lot of political sensitivity happening in work right now, which is impacting how HR leaders, operational leaders are essentially planning and building work and creating employee experiences, and I think it would be a miss on our part to not bring this into the conversations.

[00:02:27] - Claire Haidar
If you look at some of the political movements that have happened in recent years, starting with the #Meto movement, then moving on to the Black Lives Matter movement. Now if you look at the really contentious issue of the whole abortion issue happening in the US, what underpins these things is essentially a group of people that have been neglected severely, in some shape or form in the past, who are essentially rising up and saying enough is enough. One of the key threads that runs through all of these movements, if you will, is this very, very hard pushback against so-called unacceptable behavior.

[00:03:13] - Claire Haidar
My question to you is, have you been labeled as woke? The term that is being used very often in the media in the US right now, when referring to these people who are considered to be very far left in their thinking and highly, highly sensitive to any form of injustice, which this would be one of these because this would be termed a woke injustice. Have you been termed woke for broaching this topic? What is the resistance that you've received from broaching this topic if any?

[00:03:47] - Katrina Burrus
Well, the thing is, I'm trying to change the behavior of the person that is abrasive, that is, let's say, has a lot of prejudice, makes unsavory comments or sexual commentation. I definitely work with changing those behaviors. I'm not perceived as negatively on the contrary. The other thing is part of the process because I just mentioned the first process, but I did infer that I do research work from and interview people around this person to see exactly what they perceive as abrasive and untactful and full of prejudice.

[00:04:33] - Katrina Burrus
I bring that information back to my client, which is the Brilliant Jerk, as I call them, so that they see very clearly, what is affecting or giving the perception from the other people about my client. I can't force them to change, but I can certainly bring that kind of information back to them so that they can see the consequences of making such remarks or bullying people, or making sexual remarks or racial remarks and how it's perceived in their environment.

[00:05:14] - Claire Haidar
Katrina, I want to just pause there for a minute. You're talking about the individual. I totally get that. I had a question. I'm asking about the broader context. Have you received any backlash from media? Have you received any backlash from leadership inside companies that may not be aligned with other leadership that want to address this behavior? Let me tell you why I'm asking this question.

[00:05:40] - Claire Haidar
We've definitely, in companies that we've worked with, have encountered Brilliant Jerks. They're everywhere. And in my experience, you definitely have two camps of people inside companies. You have the camp of people that want to protect them and don't see anything wrong with their behavior. And then there's the camp of people who just draw a line and say, This is completely unacceptable." The question I'm asking you is, what is the resistance that you see or get from the group of people who don't want to address this behavior? Because they exist and they think that Brilliant Jerks should just be accepted.

[00:06:16] - Katrina Burrus
Absolutely. In my book, I give a case study and demonstrate all the different excuses that they give because to accept this behavior. "Oh, no, don't worry. He's just going through a divorce." And it's temporary or, "No, she is restructuring." Of course, that were ruffle a few feathers. They're in denial, seeing really the consequences of this abrasive behavior in the organization, and you definitely have that. So if that's what you're referring to, that does exist, and especially if people are interested in the results that the Brilliant Jerk provides for their department, they're going to defend them, one, because they think as a leader, their leader, they need to defend them; two, because they have a personal interest in the outcome that the leader provides, the Brilliant Jerk provides.

[00:07:13] - Katrina Burrus
Nevertheless, there's a tipping point it gets obvious that the consequences are detrimental to the organization. In my book, again, I show that the top CEO of the company is almost enamored by the Brilliant Jerk because he sees him as a son and this Brilliant Jerk is very subservient to him and turned around a company. So the leader of the company is grateful. But then when he gets these feedbacks that if he doesn't understand that the Brilliant Jerk is difficult or other, he questions, "Well, what is really happening?" When he goes and talks to people, which in the book is the story that goes and talks to people to find out really how he's perceived, how his protege is perceived, then he realizes what's happening. So if that's what you're referring to, yes, there are definitely people that will protect and that's why festers for so long within a company.

[00:08:23] - Claire Haidar
That makes sense. And yes, that's exactly that is exactly what I am referring to because if you look at the broader political movements that are happening right now, the reason why something like the Black Lives Matter movement or the #MeTo movement gets resistance is because there's multiple reasons why it gets resistance. But one of the reasons is that the underlying outcomes of the behavior are not very clearly seen by everybody involved, which is exactly what you've just spoken about.

[00:09:00] - Katrina Burrus
When I do this research work, only give it to the Brilliant Jerk, and that's absolutely adamant. I don't share it with the people that defend him, but I encourage them to find out for themselves and work with them to make them realize what's the cost. That's their choice. It's their company. But still, that conversation, the threesome. Let's say the Brilliant Jerk is sexist, and the CEO is sexist as well, so it's going to be hard to have that conversation, or he'll tolerate that behavior a lot longer than anybody else.

[00:09:43] - Katrina Burrus
First of all, I'm a woman, so I could use that fact to say how other women might perceive that. But I bring it on the table for sure. But by the time they call me in, there usually is a problem. Do they face the problem that might have to be worked on? But that they know there's a problem, usually they do at that time.

[00:10:07] - Doug Foulkes
Katrina, I'm curious. Obviously, in your professional role, you come in to facilitate this process, but I'd be keen to know, have you personally encountered a or many Brilliant Jerks personally, and if so, how has that changed you?

[00:10:23] - Katrina Burrus
I personally have had a sexist boss that was really out of line. I was a hard worker and went up the corporate ladder very quickly. They would try to reduce that to the fact that I was a woman and maybe dating somebody within the corporation, which wasn't the case at all. So, yeah, I've had that personal experience. But the thing is, what I say, if someone is a victim, one is if they can see the problem as the other person and manage their fear because these Brilliant Jerks do have fears, then it's okay.

[00:11:06] - Katrina Burrus
But once it's a poisonous behavior that demoralizes you, and if it comes within your skin, then sometimes I would advise the victim of this behavior, if it's really getting them to the point where they're stuttering, where they can't sleep at night, they have ulcers, and their absenteeism goes crazy, then it might be better to just even leave the situation. It depends. Or work on how they can keep their strength and see it as the other person's fears.

[00:11:44] - Doug Foulkes
That is the end of part two of our conversation around Brilliant Jerks by master certified coach, Dr. Katrina Burrus. If you missed the first part of our conversation with Katrina, check it out on Spotify, Google, or Apple podcasts or on the WNDYR website, WNDYR.Com. We'll conclude our chat shortly. But for now, from Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.

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