How to manage mavericks

A bloke in your office comes up with brilliant ideas. He's also a pain in the butt. How do you manage such people? Here's a crash course.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 27 Mar 2014

Learn the typology. According to maverick mentor Judith Germain of Seeing Solutions: 'Mavericks are wilfully independent, with a sense of mischievousness. They question everything and stand up for what they believe in, even if it costs them their job. They are risk-takers who break the rules, and they have a confidence that is often seen as arrogance.' And they're usually among the top performers.

Spot them. They stand out, says Germain, because they challenge assumptions and come up with unconventional solutions. If you want a more scientific approach, try the ear test. A study by Dr Elliroma Gardiner of the London School of Economics and Chris Jackson of the University of New South Wales found that people with a preference for using their left ear rather than their right ear (for example, to listen through a door) are more likely to be mavericks.

Point to the goal. Mavericks focus on the objectives they are given and choose their own way to get there. 'The key is to be clear about how you see mavericks contributing to the organisation,' says Ian Brookes of business growth consultancy DNA People.

Nurture their social intelligence. 'Mavericks are robust and thick-skinned, and don't get upset by criticism, but they treat others the same,' says Germain. 'Help them understand that they need to bring people with them,' she advises.

Set boundaries. Just as financial checks are needed to stop rogue traders, mavericks need to operate within clear limits. 'From mavericks' perspective, their behaviour is not high risk because they have done their own risk assessment,' says Germain.

Look for respect. 'Your formal authority may not have much impact,' says Brookes. 'What matters is developing rapport and mutual respect. This means dialogue and a willingness to listen to mavericks, and showing that you value their opinion.'

Offer protection. Mavericks often get their colleagues' backs up and become isolated. 'You should signpost mavericks and their contributions to the wider organisation,' says Brookes.

Don't shoot the messenger. According to former MP and self-confirmed maverick Lembit Opik, these people are 'pathfinders' and you should listen to them rather than treating them as pariahs. 'Mavericks offer a different path, and even if it's not the right one, it makes sense to encourage exploration,' he says.

Do say: 'Now think how we are going to persuade everyone this is the answer.'

Don't say: 'You're breaking every rule in the book. Why can't you just be like everyone else?'

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