Why your next hire should be a maverick
I had a colleague reach out to me to sound out a few concerns she had about an employee of hers. It was keeping her up at night. She explained that this employee did his own thing, asked too many questions, was always challenging and regularly disrupted the team. Not only that, he wasn't actually doing his job according to his job description, instead favouring to work on projects he was interested in. She pondered whether she should start him on a performance plan.
My colleague then rattled off a list of quite extraordinary achievements and innovations that her employee was leading. So, I asked whether her employee added value? She paused for a while and said, "That's a good question and yes absolutely! - But it's not what I want him to do!"
She had described a quintessential maverick.
Mavericks are probably one of the most misunderstood and often maligned employees but when recognised, cultivated and supported they can be your best transformation asset.
1) They innovate
The maverick is easy to spot. They constantly challenge the way things are done and are always looking for different approaches. It may seem like they have a constant "black hat" on. They march to their own tune. They look at situations very differently, they innovate and bring a unique perspective to situations and problem solving. They are brilliant, genius even.
2) They don't conform
Many mavericks don't conform to ordinary boundaries, norms or organisational rules and will often ignore hierarchy because they work for respect not your authority. A manager schooled in command and control leadership may find themselves in conflict with their maverick as they struggle to exert control. Confident leaders recognise the value of diversity and the role of collaborative leadership not just for mavericks but for everyone.
3) They constantly question the status quo
Provided a maverick works in an environment that values their unique contributions, the maverick can flourish. Mavericks will counteract change inertia because they are constantly questioning the status quo. In organisations with a low tolerance for dissenting viewpoints, mavericks can become maligned. Help your maverick to temper some of their characteristic bluntness into a communication style that will convey the same message - only more effectively.
4) They are brilliant at challenging assumptions
Mavericks are brilliant at analysing and evaluating underlying assumptions about a problem or an opportunity. Many are fighting to bring innovation into organisational cultures that are change resistant. Verbalising the value to other team members that the maverick plays in the team is a powerful message.
5) They keep the flame of innovation alight
According to a Bob and Gregg Vanourek article, Is The Maverick At Your Company A Genius Or A Jerk?, mavericks are independent innovators who think and act differently and who are critical in our ultra-competitive world. Think Tony Hsieh, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos.
"Mavericks don't always get along well with others... with their quirky ways, strong wills, and high standards, they often create friction and conflict. They bristle at systems and routines. As a result, mavericks are often marginalised, rejected by the corporate immune system or by colleagues who want harmony or simplicity. Meanwhile, innovation fizzles."
In these cases, they say leaders must protect the mavericks in their organisations.
"They must step up and give mavericks space to operate, providing organisational cover for mavericks to work their magic and keep the flame of innovation alight".
Play to their maverick strengths
In the earlier example of my colleague we also discussed working with her maverick to design a role where he could add the most value and to potentially redistribute some of the other work. And to have a development conversation - what was the maverick's perception of his strengths and where he could be more effective? What help or coaching did he think would be useful?
Make your next hire a Maverick
Despite some of the challenges with hiring in a maverick we need more of them. Yes, there will always be the need for the employee who does as they are told and follows the rules. But these employees rarely challenge status quo and they won't innovate or change things.
Organisations facing disruption need to be able to critically examine and reinvent themselves. Mavericks if channelled and supported can be the key to your organisations success.
"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." - Steve Jobs
Mavericks are often marginalised, rejected by colleagues who want harmony or simplicity. Meanwhile, innovation fizzles