Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Embracing a Maverick - "You can be my wing man anytime."

I have some trepidation with writing anything on the topic of leadership because I rarely feel that I have anything to say. However, something formative happens when topics that have been studied become tangible experiences. For example, a friend of mine was recently accused of an action contrary to their character. The effect of being falsely accused renewed their conviction of careful speech especially in regards to ones character.

Over the years in church leadership, I have worked with several mavericks (although I haven't worked with John McCain). The word maverick is defined by Wikipedia as “an unbranded range animal”, “One who does not abide by rules” or “one who creates or uses unconventional and/or controversial ideas or practices”. The word originates from Samuel Maverick who was considered independent minded after he refused to brand his cattle in the tradition fashion.

Mid-pack mavericks, who are typically not the senior leaders and lead from the middle of the organizational flow chart, often cause friction with other more passive leaders. Mavericks can cause friction in any organization because of their outlaw ideas which challenge the status quo. Some display the "challenge the status quo" badge proudly for all to see and recognize. If a maverick is unaware or immature, their style could result in termination or worse - isolation. Other mavericks demonstrate health and balance; knowing when to challenge and when to suspend their thought-style of leadership.

I wonder if some leaders (like me) do to mavericks what zoos do to animals. We cage the maverick until he or she is broken of their will to lead. Let me first admit that I am guilty of marginalizing mavericks and not embracing them. However, I have come to realize that mavericks are a gift to organization. You need them. Ask yourself, have I made it impossible for bright go-getters to live within the organization?

The humorous thing to me is that I have never known a maverick who needed to be convinced that he or she has something to offer their organization. Mavericks (how should say it) do not struggle for opinions. Mavericks often struggle with insecurity like most people. This means that their passion is not often pure but tainted with anger or a fear of being treated as insignificant. A good hard look in the mirror at our own faults will result in a deeper understand of humanity and has led me to embrace those with different styles of leadership. A good leader does not have to be the smartest, the most creative, or a necessarily a maverick. A good leader is involved with something they believe in. A good leader paints a picture of what could happen and goes there. When I reread the previous sentence, how can anyone not understand why a maverick is valuable to an organization.

"When we become too preoccupied with policy, procedure, and the fine-tuning of conformity to organizational standards, in effect, we have squeezed out some of our most gifted people.” – Hans Finzel, “The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make

Mavericks are essential in every organization. Giving them the accountability, encouragement and opportunity to contribute makes all the difference.

Accountability - Mavericks need honest leaders and friends. Leaders must thoughtfully set boundaries for mavericks like who makes the final decision, when it is appropriate to challenge (i.e. all meetings are not equal opportunities), and the process for expressing their thoughts. It is helpful to utilize the "dead dog" parenting technique which says, "never tell a child (or maverick) to do something a 'dead dog' could do." For example, it is not empowering to say, "don't challenge our decision." If a dead dog can obey your guidance then you are not leading effectively.

The thought-leader maverick has responsibilities as well. First, it is necessary for the maverick to care not just for their ideas but for the goals of the organization. Second, mavericks need to earn the right to be heard. For example, mavericks should qualify their thoughts with phrases like "I'm not an expert" or "I'm new here" if either their expertise or expereince is limited. Finally, I believe it is important for mavericks to be good listeners. Being a successful listener requires attention to the speaker and asking great questions.

Encouragement - First, put them in charge of something they can really own and measure achievement. Second, listen to their ideas and give them time to grow. Finally, stoke their mind's creativity with spontaneity. For example, let them work on their own if they wish or assign a vital research and development project to them accomplish.

Whether you are dealing with a "maverick" or a "goose" (sorry for the Top Gun lingo), lead by respecting others and treat them the way you yourself would like to be treated.

Philo of Alexandria said "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

Jesus of Nazareth said, "In everything, therefore, treat people that same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

I hope as encouragement and accountability work in tandem in your leadership, it will help you as it has helped me. Of course, leadership is a journey through which we learn about ourselves and see the full capacity of the human soul at work. Keep learning. Stay humble. Look Upward to Jesus.



Patti Piek said...

Great Blog, Mike!

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