Managing the maverick employee

The team environment often identifies individuals different from the rest. They may be very talented with skills for a level of performance way above other team members because every field has Individuals who are capable of putting a real winning edge on the environment but who can also give others the notion of the flawed genius who presses “self-destruct” and who leaves a trail of devastation along the way.

Managing talent or employees with different needs brings challenges, especially for leadership. They need careful, strong and empathetic leadership not just for maintaining the balance in the environment but in order that they can:

  1. Take their place in the team and understand that place
  2. Use their talents to help take the team to improved levels and the responsibility they have to that process
  3. Understand the role that the team can have in developing their effectiveness

So what is it then about maverick employees that can make them difficult to manage and often push a manager to extremes of patience?

Initially I believe that it is important to create in your mind the correct interpretation of the person you believe to be a maverick. Is the picture you have created of this person one of real negativity? Of someone seen as unacceptable to co-workers because of a consistent clash of personalities and who creates a negative attitude to most job related areas. Are they in fact the consistently low performers? Or is the picture of the individual one who is difficult to manage because they push management to extremes of patience by regularly questioning and by producing thought provoking ideas and comments that may actually be needed by management? (Kelly Services). Who would want to have a genius in their environment, a potential special talent who challenges the core of leadership on a daily basis?

Jose Mourinho talks about desiring 11 special talents and refers strongly to the responsibility of the leader to step up and face the challenge that this brings by understanding them as individuals, ensuring that they understand themselves, the role they play in serving the team and the fact that he himself needs the team for his talent to shine and develop.

Mike Carson (2013) makes reference to five challenges for leaders to face when managing a potential genius talent:

  1. Maintain a balance in your relationship with him….by ensuring that this is indeed a partnership where both parties are needed by each other and where both will benefit from managing each other’s needs.
  2. Leadership should ensure that he understands that his talent is important for the team and not only for him. This may prevent his capacity to potentially damage others.
  3. Establishing the need for the team can relieve the scrutiny of pressure on his talent and potentially remove a capacity to damage himself.
  4. Leadership has to balance expectations in order that talent can flourish and not under-perform. Creating the environment for this to prosper is a real challenge.
  5. He is neither dispensable nor indispensable! He has a part to play in team and self-development. Maintaining stability by fostering personal happiness in the environment is a challenge.

If you are a leader faced with the challenge of integrating genius talent into a team consider these five thoughts on managing their needs:

  • They should see that you have a genuine interest in them….ambitions, frustrations, self-doubts etc. and that you want to work with them to help them develop to their potential
  • Where there is talent, expectations of this talent that are appropriately managed will help create a stage for them to challenge and develop their effectiveness. Both the team and individual benefit from this mindset of need….embrace their talent
  • Encourage integration and to do this they need to understand just how important they are to the team but that they must also give back to the team. Their talent maybe different to their teammates but it is not separate and does not stand on its own so focus on team needs
  • Do not suppress this individuality because it may be this dimension that can serve as an inspiration for the team to evolve new strengths. Leadership may need to understand that their talent may need a stage in order to capture this individuality. It can promote personal growth
  • Set behaviour and performance parameters with this talent as a member of a team. They should know that you will support and defend them but no differently from that of other team member

For sure special talents can face leadership with very different and difficult to arduous challenges but get it right and this talent can help to both serve and inspire team development.

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