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Maverick’s loose-cannon traits make hiring managers nervous Add to ...

“The candidate is brilliant and innovative, but she challenges convention, is fiercely independent and persistent to a fault at times.” Hardly the prescriptive formula for a typical new hire.

But adding a maverick to your staff can be a boon to businesses in need of fresh ideas and a competitive edge, hiring experts say.

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“Your bookkeeper might not be the maverick, your Steady Eddie in operations might not be the maverick. But if you’re trying to redefine how you do things, a maverick might have a place on the team,” says leadership coach Eileen Chadnick, founder and principal of Toronto-based Big Cheese Coaching.

Mavericks are not necessarily team players and will stand their ground in defence of their ideas, sometimes to the point of abrasiveness, according to a new study recently published in the British Journal of Psychology.

Some aspects of the maverick personality, such as risk-taking and low agreeableness, might make some hiring managers nervous, the study notes. “However, our research suggests that when combined with other traits such as extroversion, creativity and openness, the results can be quite positive,” writes organizational psychologist Elliroma Gardiner, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and her co-author, Chris Jackson of the University of New South Wales.

Managing such employees may require open-mindedness and a deft hand. But employers should be leveraging strengths and setting expectations for all employees in any event, Ms. Chadnick says. “You need the right mix of people and the right mix of talents.”

In marketing, where ideas are everything, the quotient of mavericks is quite high, says Elizabeth Hoyle, president of H2 Central Marketing & Communications in Toronto. “I don’t really want to hire people I have to motivate. I want them to have the energy and the spontaneity.

“I am happy to sort of herd them or guide them or fill in some of the things that they don’t have – and then just let them run,” Ms. Hoyle says. “You can frustrate these kinds of people if you are always trying to control them.”

Avoiding the urge to micromanage is key to creating an environment that marshals the best in mavericks, Prof. Gardiner of LSE said in an interview. “If a manager is going to tightly micromanage workers to ensure that they complete their tasks in the way that it has always been done, then it is very unlikely that their workers are going to feel free to come up with these market-changing ideas.”

Ms. Hoyle equally values the more steadfast types in her workplace. “Sometimes mavericks are really good and creative, but they can’t necessarily get it over the finish line, so you have to have a ratio of those people who can take the idea and make sure it goes to completion.”

That’s not to say mavericks are unfocused, “but they have a problem sometimes with direction,” she adds. “Sometimes they are committed to their idea and moving it forward, and it might not be the right idea, so it’s the direction that you have to help them with.”

Jesse Bannister and Josh Vanderheide, the co-founders and creative minds behind AlsoKNOWNas: Design Studio in Vancouver’s Gastown district, are the first to acknowledge that they needed someone to keep them “in check.”

They recruited manager Carolyn Phoenix for the role and credit her with being “the glue that binds” the business together. “We always have a billion things on the go. She brings us down to earth and keeps us somewhat focused on the things that need to get done. She brings a skill set we don’t have,” Mr. Bannister says.

As with most everything they do, Mr. Bannister and Mr. Vanderheide do not follow a formula when it comes to recruiting. “We’re not very traditional in that sense,” Mr. Bannister says.

Indeed, a rigid approach to hiring can get in the way of the recruiting the best person for the role, says Prof. Gardiner.

“A lot of the time, we have a prescriptive formula for what kind of general personality profile we are looking for, what kind of scores are acceptable,” she says. “If people don’t fit the mould, sometimes they don’t progress to the next level, but I would argue that we could be missing out on people with special talents.”

“Being a maverick is more than just having an idea or a hunch pay off, it is about taking real risks and achieving in a way that is unique and unexpected,” she and Prof. Jackson wrote.

“Although we are not suggesting that businesses rush to fill their organizations with ‘mavericks,’ what we are suggesting is that in the current climate, where many businesses are asking their workers to do more with less, encouraging workers to be creative and giving them some leeway to take measured risks may have some potential benefits.”

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