Learn and Lead

About continual learning and leadership

The Case of Unreliable Genius

I am starting a case study series. I present a case and hope that we can learn from each other’s responses.


Sanjay walked into Priya office agitated. Without waiting for Priya to get off the phone completely he started,

“Boss, Nitin hasn’t come to office again today, and he is not taking any calls either. How can I complete the project like this?”

Priya tried to calm him down. “Slow down. What happened?”

“You know how Nitin is. He wasn’t in office most of last week and today again he hasn’t turned up. He promised he would come in today. And what’s worst he isn’t picking up his phone either.”

“What happened last week?” Priya asked, again trying to calm Sanjay down.

“He said he was unwell or something. I mean he is so unreliable. I just can’t plan any tasks with him. He is always unwell.”

“But he is good at what he does isn’t it” Priya said. “I mean the customers love him, he is able to convince them so easily. And he can handle tough customers too you know.”

“Ya I know but he can do that IF and WHEN is around. What use are his skills if he is so unreliable. I just can’t deal with him anymore.” Sanjay continued to be agitated.

“So how will we complete this project? You know he is a critical person on this project. He’s been on the project since the beginning. The client also insists that Nitin stays on the project, you know how it is.” Priya tried to reason with Sanjay.

“All that is fine but that doesn’t mean that we will continue to be blackmailed by his behaviour. I mean we have a deliverable today. The whole team worked so hard over the weekend and now he just isn’t to be found. Not even the courtesy to call and let us know.” Sanjay said unrelenting.


Nitin is very skilled. When given a task, he completes it with ease and to utmost client satisfaction. However he is unreliable with his availability to the team and meeting internal deadlines. He is also not contactable at times without any notice. What do you think Sanjay, a project manager, should do to work better with Nitin? Priya is Sanjay and Nitin’s supervisor. She knows that Nitin can be a key contributor to the team’s success. She has spoken with Nitin in the past about his unreliability. What should Priya do now?


Anonymous said...

Few questions to ask first:

1. Is this person committed to his work?
2. Why is this person not responding to calls? Is this person always unwell or is there something else?
3. If the client likes wants this person does then can we train someone else to do that task? Is it possible to replicate his work? Have we tried to find someone else?
4. Can we try and manager with this persons irregularities?
5. Is there a pattern to this behavior?
6. How flexible is this person when he is around?
7. Do we want to look at the value he brings to the work or the timelines alone?

Listing the answers to these questions should help us in either continuing with this person or replacing this person.

Rupa said...

Priya and Sanjay should have a hard talk with Nitin.

They must communicate clearly that Nitin is setting a bad precedent and is causing lot of damage to the project.

Companies need committed employees more than geniuses.

From what I have seen it is very difficult to put up with employees like Nitin in deadline driven organizations.

Rupa said...

Great effort Manish!

You have started a scenario based online learning sessions :)

Veera said...

Thanks Manish for starting this series. This is a great idea.

I believe Priya and Sanjay should review the situation calmly. Since this is a repeated behaviour, they should work at creating a backup for Nitin immediately. If Nitin is smart, this move should help in his cleaning up his act. If nothing substantial comes through, they should look at moving Nitin out of the team. Discipline and intergriry issues should not be tolerated.


Archana Narayan said...

I think Sanjay needs to understand why Nitin is absent. Is it because of a personal crisis (such as a family member suffers from a terminal illness) or complacency.

If it is personal crisis, putting pressure on Nitin is not going to help the situation. A heart to heart with Nitin will help Nitin feel valued and both can plan how things will proceed.

If he is complacent, Sanjay and Priya should talk to Nitin and try and check his attitude.

Like anonymous pointed out, some parts of the meat is missing. Guess this is the best I can think of. Just curious to know whether there a goal to these series?

Sri said...

A Project Manager needs to tread a very thin line always, similar is the scenario here. Nitin seems to be an asset skill-wise. So, attempts should be to weed out the cause for his lack of certain key soft-skills and help / mentor him to strengthen that area.
Sanjay as a PM should first chill, relax & call for a one-on-one unofficial talk with Nitin – to understand if it’s a personal problem, or lack of interest (considering he has been on the project from start), or de / less-motivated:
• if its lack of motivation, soon Sanjay has to find a way to recognize and reward him for his hard work;
• if its declining interest, Sanjay has to identify if entrusting additional responsibilities or a new assignment would help & accordingly discuss with Priya the final decision;
• if its personal, then its all the more important for Sanjay to immediately start implementing the backup plan (assuming one exist; if not make one) and allow Nitin to take a break ---

Also most critical would be for Sanjay to keep the client informed and prepared for Nitin’s movement, if that’s the decision taken.

If despite the above measures, Nitin continues his way, then Sanjay and Priya should take steps to maintain the basic ethics of a company.

Manish Mohan said...

There are usually no correct answers in situations like these. So while the deadlines, reliability are important, so is functional skill.

Thank you for positive response to my first scenario. I hope we can learn from each other to handle situations like these that we may encounter in our career.

Nico Schweinzer said...

Being unreliable is a sickness of geniuses. Sean Parker, former President of facebook, Founder of Napster and Spotify is just one modern example.

I know its hard to deal with it, but i suggest, when working with a genius, to find a way, for the team, to handle this. Its a waste of time to change the behaviour of the "genius", since the genius will not change.

Basically such great minds are like artists, and artists arent supposed to "work when someone pushes the button". Its impossible to change this kind of people and it shouldnt be changed, because part of why they are so amazing is, because they are, who they are (including a lack of reliability).

Good luck!

Post a Comment



Subscribe to this blog

Get updates in your email. Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

 Subscribe Posts feed

 Subscribe Comments feed

Blog Archive



Related Posts with Thumbnails

About Me

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employers and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employers.

Creative Commons License This work by Manish Mohan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 India License.