Nobody likes know-it-alls until they need their expertise. For CIOs, those times come quite often, and they depend heavily on their tech “Einsteins,” who work tirelessly to solve problems both for the challenge and the recognition it may bring.

Tech “Einsteins” is a tag for IT visionaries that authors John Ivancevich and Thomas N. Duening coined in their book, Managing Einsteins: Leading High-Tech Workers in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill; $24.95). Columnist Bob Weinstein wrote about the best way for CIOs to manage these temperamental—yet very valuable—creatures in an article on TechRepublic.

TechRepublic member Error 505 wondered in the discussion of that article about a related topic. Can the tech Einsteins themselves be strong managers? Certainly savvy geniuses possess the technical knowledge to be responsible for mission-critical business, but can they overcome their sometimes introverted personalities to emerge as good leaders?

Ivancevich and Duening suggest that Einsteins are less interested in keeping their jobs than typical employees because they tend to focus on projects and see their work as a series of discrete tasks. The tendency to be goal-oriented and to work independently may get in the way of their becoming good managers, Error 505 suggested in his feedback.

Other members insist that Einsteins can become great leaders if allowed to learn and grow to their full potential.

Einsteins can be good managers
Lwood said his experience with Einsteins reveals that they’re great to work with, but “typically leave once the project is done and they are no longer challenged.” Sumjay called her Einstein a “diamond in the rough,” and said it’s best to have more than one Einstein to a project team. Their “arrogance” can be highly annoying, but they “always go beyond the limits and usually deliver the goods,” she said. But helping to deliver a solution as part of a team and leading that team are different things, and arrogance isn’t usually high on the list of traits for a management position.

Rboggio said Einsteins could be great managers, depending on the definition of the role, and if that’s what they want to do.

“If you want a manager that plays the politics and strokes the corporate back, the answer is ‘no,’” he said. “On the other hand, if you want the job done and done well, and you allow this person to manage in a way that suits them, you will be pleasantly surprised.”

He suggested that CIOs have a tough time managing Einsteins because Einsteins refuse to give up. Management is about empowering people to outperform their own limited expectation of themselves, he said. Einsteins think, “If I can do this, so can you,” Rboggio explained, and many folks will say, “I can’t,” or perform in a mediocre fashion.

“Einsteins will not accept that from the people they work with or the managers they work for,” Rboggio said.

Einstein was just a man
Member ehorst believes it’s an inability to work in a political environment, like management, that prevents tech wizards from attaining the CIO level.

“The best manager is one that has been in the technical trenches…and thoroughly understands process and procurement for a smooth running IT infrastructure. Where the Einstein ‘runs aground’ is in the political arena…[they] do not have time to play games.”

But TechRepublic member John Tieso reminds us, “Einstein was simply one of a number of individuals with immensely developed brainpower concentrated and focused on problem solving.” People of this nature exist in virtually every walk of life and should not be feared, but encouraged, he noted.

He suggests that CIOs use tech Einsteins as “subject-matter experts rather than developers, respect their views instead of being challenged by them, and give them work to do that is indicative of their skill level. Then, let them do it.”

Einsteins in your organization

Have you promoted Einsteins in your organization? What characteristics make them good managers? How have you cultivated their abilities to create management-savvy tech gurus? Send us your thoughts or post them in the discussion.