VIEWPOINT: Innovative thinkers are often mavericks. Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, says we need them, in this fifth in a series of articles for IEDP:
Maverick managers, off-the-wall employees, tortured geniuses – individuals that we have been taught, counselled and warned to leave well alone. Staff recruiters weed them out early in any selection process and any inherited non-conformists get sent packing to the outer limits of the corporate empire.
“A new world of work where similarity breeds contempt”
Until now, standard procedure seems to have been building organizational cultures filled with like-minded people, none of whom will ever rock the boat, much less capsize it. But, as I keep trying to impress upon my peers, we are leading and managing in a new era of work. A new world of work where similarity breeds contempt and the status quo needs a good shaking up.
Why ? Simple. Talent is in ever shorter supply, meaning hiring our preferred people is harder than ever. At the same time, we need to innovate and invent to survive. This means that there is an urgent imperative to think new, radical thoughts about our businesses.
And if you want radical thinking where else to go but to the source of all things different – the maverick executive. We’ve all met them, many of us have worked with them. They are the loose cannons of corporate life. Their travelling companions are chaos and confusion, but they may just offer new insights into how to boost a business, promote a product, or smarten up a service line. My argument is that in today’s business world we need these people who think and act differently to ourselves and our plain vanilla compatriots.
Only problem with mavericks, you have to know how to lead them!
As a leader, the first thing to recognise is that maverick employees need one thing above all else – freedom. Try and tie them down to the rules that the rest of us follow and they will quickly get frustrated and quit. Conversely, if you give them a totally free rein chaos can ensue and others will leave instead!
Second thing to take on board is that these wonderful, wacky people need lots and lots of encouragement – amazingly they often have quite a low opinion of themselves and the more you praise their efforts the better they will be.
Thirdly, you need to create a climate that can support them without turning off your run-of-the-mill corporate clones – the Bills, Bobs and Bettys, that your recruitment agency would much rather you were hiring. These employees need assurance too (most importantly that you haven’t gone crazy), but they also need to be told that these mavericks are not different; they are part of the team.
So, if you want to put some maverick’s into your business, how should you deal with them ? Here’s a few thoughts to get you started.
Make them part of the group you lead (be sure they feel valued) and make real efforts to integrate them. However, also spend a lot of face-time with the others in the group so they know what the score really is.
Tell your maverick(s) that you welcome their ideas (however weird and wonderful they may be!) and you look forward to them. Above all you want them to make a contribution and feel that they can be as open and as innovative as possible.
Set goals and challenges for them. This keeps them focused on what you want, not what they would like to do. Most mavericks have short attention spans and if not watched can wander off and get into trouble.
Follow up quickly with their ideas and their actions. It’s all about encouragement. If an idea isn’t worth pursuing say so and move on. But rather than saying “no,” suggest they think about their idea in another way. What you want is positive reinforcement, not a series of turn-offs. However, never say, “It’s a great idea,” where it clearly isn’t. By trying to build up their credibility you will quickly lose your own.
Don’t say, “I’ll get back to you,” and leave them waiting days for a response. Say you will consider their idea and get back to them in 24 hours and make sure you do it.
And what about conflict ? Well it does happen. Most often because other members of the team can feel sidelined or ignored and take it out on your mavericks. If that happens, confront it. Make it clear what each member of your team is supposed to do – so everyone understands the responsibilities and the roles they play. Don’t play favourites.
Properly led, mavericks can play a major role in organizational success. Is it worth the trouble ? If you know why they are there and you can keep them focused, yes it is. Otherwise stick with those cosy clones although that way corporate life will never be as much fun!
This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based learning and development organization. Have a comment or a question? Connect with him via Linkedin.