Here’s to the crazy ones

THEY CAN BE HIGHLY UN­SET­TLING IN THE WORK­PLACE, BUT THE MAV­ER­ICKS AMONG US TEND TO BE RE­SPON­SI­BLE FOR THE MOST EX­CIT­ING OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES AND INNOVATIONS.

The Australian - The Deal - - Don’t Even Think About It -

Bold, cre­ative lead­ers tend to de­liver in­no­va­tive think­ing. They also tend to be highly dis­rup­tive, dis­turb­ing to work for and rarely team play­ers. In busi­ness, it seems we can’t live with them and can’t live with­out them, as many who met the young Steve Jobs, founder of Ap­ple, have at­tested.

These so-called mav­er­icks are es­sen­tial in the busi­ness world, says cor­po­rate psy­chol­o­gist Gavin Free­man, di­rec­tor of con­sul­tancy The Busi­ness Olympian. “For all of the dam­age [they] can do when things go pear- shaped, the ben­e­fits of their bet­ter de­ci­sions can be se­ri­ously far-reach­ing,” he says.

Think of how the iPod and iPhone have changed en­tire in­dus­tries – and so­ci­ety in gen­eral. Free­man notes that be­hind most great innovations and dis­cov­er­ies are peo­ple with vi­sion and in­sight who push on when oth­ers are shout­ing: “You shouldn’t do that.”

El­liroma Gar­diner, from the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics and Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence, and Chris Jack­son, pro­fes­sor of busi­ness psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of NSW School of Man­age­ment, de­fine a mav­er­ick as a bold and cre­ative in­di­vid­ual un­likely to heed the ad­vice of oth­ers.

Mav­er­ick be­hav­iour tends to­wards the cre­ative, dy­namic, risk-tak­ing, dis­rup­tive, bold and goal-di­rected, Gar­diner and Jack­son write in a re­search pa­per ti­tled Work­place Mav­er­icks: How per­son­al­ity and risk-tak­ing propen­sity pre­dicts mav­er­ick­ism. “How­ever, rather than view­ing mav­er­ick­ism as a ty­pol­ogy, we [re­gard it] as a con­tin­u­ous vari­able where high scor­ers are bold, ec­cen­tric and dis­rup­tive, but also tal­ented and en­gaged in goal- di­rected be­hav­iour.” High scor­ers are also so­cially com­pe­tent and com­fort­able with

NON-COM­PLI­ANCE CAN BE ADAP­TIVE

IN SOME CIR­CUM­STANCES, BUT DETRI­MEN­TAL TO OR­GAN­I­SA­TIONAL HEALTH IN OTH­ERS.

mak­ing de­ci­sions. They will also per­se­vere with ac­tions that run against the sta­tus quo.

The dis­rup­tive be­hav­iour com­mon among mav­er­icks can cause trou­ble in or­gan­i­sa­tions. In so­ci­ety, peo­ple gen­er­ally want cer­tainty and pre­dictabil­ity be­cause our brains look for pat­terns, Free­man ar­gues. So mav­er­icks tend to make oth­ers feel un­com­fort­able. By thwart­ing that de­sire for pre­dictabil­ity and cer­tainty, they dis­rupt teams, de­stroy cul­ture and in­crease staff turnover.

“So much of mod­ern busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion cen­tres around the im­por­tance of teams, of build­ing and work­ing within and manag­ing teams,” Jack­son says. “But the mav­er­icks ... cre­ate the re­ally ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and innovations. They’re nec­es­sary, but they must be un­der­stood and they and the staff around them must be care­fully man­aged.” Jack­son and Gar­diner’s work fo­cused on the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and pre­dic­tion of mav­er­icks within or­gan­i­sa­tions, with their ef­forts con­cen­trated on the pos­i­tive – or func­tional – side of mav­er­ick­ism.

Not all cre­ative, in­de­pen­dent ac­tions yield pos­i­tive out­comes. Mav­er­ick non-com­pli­ance can be adap­tive in some in­stances, but detri­men­tal to or­gan­i­sa­tional health in oth­ers. “There­fore, it could be ar­gued that the strik­ing dif­fer­ence [be­tween those] func­tional in­di­vid­u­als high in mav­er­ick­ism and in­di­vid­u­als who could be oth­er­wise clas­si­fied as ‘work­place de­viants’ is the ten­dency of the for­mer to achieve ... [and to] ‘pull it off’ when least expected.”

The study yielded three key find­ings. The first is that ex­traver­sion, open­ness and low agree­able­ness are very sig­nif­i­cant pre­dic­tors of mav­er­ick­ism. Jobs once fa­mously be­gan a speech: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the mis­fits, the rebels, the trou­ble­mak­ers, the round pegs in the square hole, the ones who see things dif­fer­ently …” He cham­pi­oned peo­ple who were sim­i­lar to him­self, with big ideas and magnetic per­son­al­i­ties, but who were of­ten de­scribed as dif­fi­cult to deal with.

An­other find­ing is bi­o­log­i­cally in­ter­est­ing – those with be­hav­iour high in mav­er­ick­ism tend to re­port a right-hemi­sphere pref­er­ence, also known as a left-ear pref­er­ence (mean­ing they pre­fer their left ear for hear­ing), and low neu­roti­cism. “We sug­gest that the [left ear] pref­er­ence in­di­cates a bi­o­log­i­cal pre­dis­po­si­tion to­wards the cre­ative and low neu­roti­cism al­lows in­di­vid­u­als high in mav­er­ick­ism to pur­sue untested ap­proaches with min­i­mal fear of fail­ure or pu­n­ish­ment,” Jack­son says.

Fi­nally, in tough busi­ness con­di­tions, those low in mav­er­ick­ism tend to lean to­wards the con­ser­va­tive. But mav­er­icks will take just as many risks as in more for­giv­ing times.

Free­man warns that peo­ple forced to work within an en­vi­ron­ment of un­cer­tainty of­ten go into “pro­tec­tion mode”. They will strive for medi­ocrity in or­der to main­tain an ac­cept­able

per­for­mance level. How­ever, if the work­ing en­vi­ron­ment is ac­cept­ing of fail­ure and the cul­ture en­cour­ages risk-tak­ing, staff will feel safer about emerg­ing from pro­tec­tion mode.

“The mav­er­ick leader must be seen to be invit­ing staff on the jour­ney and giv­ing them con­sid­er­a­tion. The leader is not nec­es­sar­ily say­ing they should be like him – com­pa­nies still need struc­ture and or­gan­i­sa­tion – but he’s en­gag­ing them and say­ing that fail­ure is okay.”

Work­place pa­ram­e­ters must be al­tered so that staff can see the value of the mav­er­ick’s un­pre­dictabil­ity. “We need the mav­er­icks to continue push­ing the bound­aries. Oth­er­wise we would never chal­lenge the sta­tus quo. We’d never achieve any­thing.”

IL LUSTRATION STURT KRYGSMAN

THE MAV­ER­ICK LEADER MUST BE SEEN TO BE INVIT­ING STAFF ON THE JOUR­NEY AND GIV­ING THEM CON­SID­ER­A­TION.

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