I was glancing through a book this AM… The Top 10 Mistakes Leaders Make by Hans Finzel, and came across a chapter titled “No Room For Mavericks,” and of course if got me to thinking…Many of today’s most inspiring businesses were created by maverick leaders who colored outside of lines and thought outside of the box.
And… what hits closer to home for me… wasn’t the USAF founded by a bunch of mavericks as well? Think Billy Mitchell…sure he could have used a little polish, but he was a founding father of the Air Force. Think of the group that broke out in airpower thought in WWII? Pretty much a group of mavericks. Hans Finzel feels having no room for mavericks is so bad… it is one of the top 10 mistakes leaders can make.
Mavericks are pioneers, what Webster’s dictionary defines as “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.” Mavericks are often misunderstood, or even rejected, because they don’t “fit in”—but they often embody the very things an organization needs to not go stale or become ineffective.
In his book…Finzel notes…organizations have the nasty habit of becoming institutions, and institutions can easily fade into irrelevance. Most organizations have a life cycle similar to the human life cycle: Birth to infancy to childhood to Adolescence to Adulthood to Middle Age to Graying years to Old Age to Death.
How far an institution has declined is clear in the types of comments its leaders make toward those who suggest changes…to those mavericks… or enlightened rebels. Rather than saying why the new idea won’t work, they brush it off as impossible, too easy, or worst of all, “against policy” or “AFI.” They often become hostile, suggesting that this person is a radical interloper who doesn’t know the rules.
The structures of institutions are hostile to mavericks as well. Nothing kills off new ideas like micromanagement, a thick policy manual, the endless deliberation of committees and mounds of paperwork. In short, new ideas threaten to shake up the status quo in all of its manifestations.
In “What Leaders Really Do,” John Kotter agrees that the mess-making of mavericks is necessary: “The single biggest impetus for change in an organization tends to be a new leader in a key job…someone with a fresh perspective who sees that the status quo is unacceptable.”
For an organization to avoid fading into ineffectiveness and death, it must embrace the creative pioneering of the maverick. However, the older the organization, the less room there usually is for truly creative people…and that’s a problem…
Mavericks can seem like malcontents or troublemakers because they don’t neatly fit in; we need to recognize legitimate, useful mavericks and make room for them. Hans notes you can spot them by….
– care not just for their own ideas but for the goals of the organization
– are making a difference
– are willing to earn the right to be heard
– are influencing others and producing good results.
You can encourage those mavericks who can help you by:
– Give them some freedom to experiment and try things
– Put them in charge of something they can really own
– LISTEN to them
– Let them work on their own if they wish
– Give them time to grow and blossom
Legitimate mavericks don’t just complain, they really want to make a difference. And if you as a leader will make room for them, they will help to lead into the future