Navigating People in the Workplace: The Wiz Kid

Business Leadership advisory emotional intelligence

Hesitant to promote your genius Wiz Kid because they’re brilliant – but they just can’t lead?

Perhaps you work for a Wiz Kid, or you’re a cluey leader and employ people smarter than you – and you have a few Wiz Kids on your team. Often reserved, intelligent, calculated and highly specialized and skilled, these quiet achievers are the technical brains of the team – and you’d be lost without them.

But… you’re reluctant to promote them.

Actually, you have some serious reservations about their emotional maturity, interpersonal skills and leadership qualities. Despite their technical strengths, they don’t demonstrate the qualities you know are required for leadership.

Foreword: This blog is part of a series 
A Leader’s Handbook to Navigating People in the Workplace. The aim of the series to explore the core needs and behaviors of some different personalities in the workforce and provide actionable leadership pointers to growing individuals into the best version of themselves. Much of the content is derived from the Enneagram, and placed into everyday language that can be understood and applied by managers and leaders with no prior knowledge of enneagram literature.


Alternatively, you may be dealing with a colleague or boss who has been promoted on their technical skill but struggles to connect relationally and communicate openly with you and the team. In either case, your Wiz Kid (the smart quite one who struggled socially in school) has entered adulthood with the same set of challenges. If only they could bring their interpersonal skills up to the level of their intellectual prowess…

Well, the good news is they can, and you can play a positive role in helping them along that journey.


Understanding Your Wiz Kid:

Your Wiz Kid has earned their stripes as a professional with highly gifted expertise in their field. They have a capacity for understanding complex problems, are fast learners and have an unending thirst for knowledge. They’re private characters who work well alone, and seek solitude to pursue their interests. These kinds of individuals often gravitate toward technical and academic roles, such as engineers, software devs, accountants, lawyers, research scientists, analysts, and IT roles. Additionally, you may find them in creative technical roles such as video and audio production. They love to sit behind the scenes. They may not volunteer their emotions, ideas or opinions unless prompted, but you have a sense that they have a lot beneath the surface to contribute. Your challenge as their leader is unlocking their potential.

Often Wiz Kids display the genius and awkwardness to be considered by their friends and colleagues as “on the spectrum”. While this may be untrue and a grossly unfair characterization of someone who is simply a shy quiet achiever, it helps to recognize some similar struggles between their temperament and the research on Asperger’s Syndrome around social and communication challenges. One suggestion is to read up on adult AS communication challenges and you will find some tools to help – even if your Wiz Kid doesn’t necessarily have AS.


Growing Quirks into Superpowers

Often our greatest strengths are connected with our individual quirks and abnormalities. This is as true of your Wiz Kid as it is of anyone else. Learning their quirks will give insights into the mechanisms that can drive their skills and dampen their relationships.

Stuck in their head.

Your Wiz Kid will spend hours analyzing various scenarios, troubleshooting hypotheticals and thought experiments. When they’re in this state, the glaze over their eyes isn’t a sign of vacancy. Internal operations are running on all cylinders. It’s a powerhouse inside that mind, but it can tangle them in knots and processing all the variables to complex problems can bottleneck their capacity to act decisively and make a decision.

You will find that your Wiz Kid will struggle to trust their gut. They can get caught overthink the process, and that’s why numeric decision-making tools (e.g decision matrix models) can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, they really appeal to the logical model building brain that attempts to balance the variables. On the other hand, your Wiz Kid may spend hours finessing over the nuances of their theory and questioning if their statistical regression of two particular variables would be better suited to a linear or cubic model… you get the gist of the issue.

Leadership Tip: Affirm the decisions they do make and encourage decisiveness as a value. Behind their indecision is a fear of failure and looking incompetent. Flip this thinking by redefining failure as experimentation and gathering data. The more data, the better their decisions will be in the long run and the more they will learn. If your Wiz Kid can associate failure as data collection, they may increase the velocity and volume of their decision-making. They will attempt to rationalize their reservations as ‘wisdom’, and provide a host of other reasons that point away from the deep inner fears. Don’t bend to this, but address the root insecurity of looking incompetent.

Highly Intellectual

If it’s a topic they’re interested in, your Wiz Kid will light up and you’ll no doubt have an informative and educational conversation. This crosses over into their work in passion projects and specialties. If you can align this passion to coincide with their work, give yourself a bonus for being such a good boss. You’ll find they work tirelessly to become masters in their specialization. In reality, this can result in them being amateurs at love, people, and general life skills, so this laser focus can be both a weakness and a superpower.

Leadership Tip: Stress the value of emotional intelligence as a cornerstone of success and leadership. Don’t let your Wiz kid think brains are enough to be a successful leader, partner, spouse or parent. They know it deep down, so encourage them that their emotions have value and are to be explored rather than avoided. Remind them to express kindness and warmth to others – not just think it.

Building stronger social confidence and self-awareness of their emotional habits can be much aided by introducing them to personality models like Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram. Use their love of models and learning, and nudge them toward other leadership and personal development resources. Pitch it to them like any other technical skill where they can become a master of understanding themselves and others.

Bonus Tip: Don’t assume you understand what is wrong if they seem withdrawn. Challenge them to be direct with you and communicate how they really feel, as they will not volunteer this information.

Problem Solvers

Despite the challenges around decision-making in certain areas, you will find your Wiz naturally given to algorithmic problem-solving – meaning they identify trends and patterns, and develop their own theoretical frameworks when solutions appear elusive. They have an instinct for methodical iterative troubleshooting that will factor in a dozen things you would have missed. Encourage this, because they will find unbounded energy to solve the challenge you put before them.

Highly Autonomous

Your Wiz Kid is likely a private person who highly values their own company and space. This habit accommodates remarkable focus and learning but is also socially isolating. They can come across as detached and uninterested simply because they don’t open up and volunteer their thoughts. Often this is just their natural state, rather than a choice to intentionally withdraw from engaging. Other times, it is intentional, and such types can fear losing a sense of power in the room by giving away their secrets. It may seem an odd pattern of behavior to others, but put yourself in their shoes: if knowledge is power, then giving away all your insights will deplete you of your safeguard. Combined with their high value for their own space, this guardedness and ultra-self-sufficiency can come across cold, closed off or even insensitive – being what some would call a “closed book” and unsociable. In reality, this ‘holding-out’ behavior is a mechanism to control people and the power in the room. Partners and spouses feel the isolation and ‘distance’ the most, and unfortunately may look elsewhere for passion and personal connection if their Wiz partner doesn’t change their ways.

Leadership Tip: Don’t be put off by their reluctance to socially engage. Remember this highly intellectual person has a soul that needs affirmation and companionship like everyone else – they just fear the vulnerability that healthy relationships require. By being open, honest and warm you assure them that there is nothing to fear. Reinforce their value lies in their innate personhood and character – not just their intellectual prowess. Be kind – it sounds a little cliché, but consistent invitations to social events and casual lunchtime chats will eventually win them over. Seriously don’t underestimate the confidence and development this inclusion will bring. Some of their biggest life-long challenges lie within the social/relational domain. The act of instilling confidence though kindness will impact them well beyond professional leadership – it could transform their life. No pressure on you (wink-wink).

Bonus Tip: Wiz Kids are more open with people they know. Work socials and team-building exercises that accommodation one-to-one interaction will mean that your Wiz Kid will likely show more openness to collaboration and team spirit.


Behind the Closed Book

The value and pursuit of knowledge can be driven by the unconscious fear of being incompetent, useless and helpless. Your Wiz Kid has learned that smart people run the world, and have come to rely on their talents to gain a sense of power and control over their own lives. Thus the quest for knowledge is also a quest for security and identity. Much of their self-image is bound up with their competency and skills. To instill the maturity that your Wiz Kid will need as a leader that can communicate, inspire and effectively manage a team will require a restructuring of their self-identity to move away from an eternal student, and toward a teacher/mentor that initiates and cultivates the development of others. Interesting, they love knowledge and learning- so you would think they would be natural teachers. Their challenge will not just be the dispensing of knowledge, but to be motivated to nurture instead of impress. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but when your Wiz Kid begins reaching out to others this is a sign of positive growth.

Ultimately, your Wiz Kid has so much to give. Much of the development discussed in this blog is underpinned by their recognition of the value of leadership and personal development and its capacity to help them overcome personal and career challenges. Like anyone, awareness and ownership of key weaknesses is vital to sustainable change and growth. When your Wiz Kid finally can acknowledge and address the mental and behavioral patterns that stunt progression in their leadership (and career), they can really begjn to walk the road to maturity.


In summary…

  •      Skills do not necessarily equal leadership.
  •      Affirm their capacity to make decisions by encouraging failure-fueled learning.
  •      Leverage their passion for learning by introducing them to personal development tools and models.
  •      Extol the virtues and usefulness of Emotional intelligent Leadership.
  •      Be kind and hospitable to socially awkward colleagues. Cultivate social confidence and openness with kindness and heart-felt inclusiveness.


AT UHY Haines Norton we’re not just number crunchers– we’re people experts. We know that long-term success in business is a result of great leadership. Businesses succeed when teams work well together, overcome personal differences, and leaders maximize the strengths of their team while mitigating the challenges of leading strong and contrasting personalities in their organizations.

We created our Business Improvement and Coaching services to equip business leaders to navigate the challenges of leading a diverse collection of people, overcoming personality differences and cultivating healthy teams.

Talk with us, and let’s discuss how you can lead your team to function at peak health and productivity.

Like this blog? Check out our other Navigating People in the Workplace additions:

Stay tuned for more…

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