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