Mavericks at work: Identify your own Steve Jobs

by Stephanie Zillman12 Apr 2012

Those disruptive, slightly abrasive individualists in your office might be in danger of getting fired for their inability to work in a team, but their creativity and passion might mean they are in fact of huge value to the organisation. The point is that these ‘mavericks’ have to be handled well.

A joint study by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the London School of Economics (LSE) analysed the benefits and drawbacks of having a so-called ‘maverick’ on staff. The study of nearly 500 employees from a range of organisations hypothesised that recent economic events have meant businesses increasingly rely on the skills of internal mavericks to keep their firms aggressive and competitive in the global marketplace. Dr Elliroma Gardiner of LSE and Professor Chris Jackson of UNSW analysed the personality traits, biological and environmental factors that predict maverickism. It was found that employers who learn how to identify these key creative players are better placed to manage their talent. Maverick employees have been popularly described as independent thinkers, creative problem-solvers, quick decision-makers, and goal-oriented individuals. However, despite the apparent value of such individuals to organisations, until now no formal model had investigated this behaviour.

Most notably, the research challenges the preconception that certain characteristics such as dysfunctional behaviour, like risk-taking, can actually be beneficial.

Although the report does not suggest HR scramble to fill their organisations with 'mavericks', it does suggest that in the current climate, where many businesses are asking their workers to do more with less, workers should be encouraged to be creative and free to take measured risks. “Understandably, some aspects of the maverick personality profile, such as risk-taking and low agreeableness, might make some hiring managers quite nervous. However, our research suggests that when combined with other traits, such as extroversion, creativity and openness, the results can be quite positive,” Jackson said.

Profile of a maverick:

  • More likely to be male
  • Prefers to work individually
  • May seem abrasive
  • Good communicator but not ‘agreeable’
  • Extroverted (because individuals high in extroversion are adept at persuasion and influence)
  • Open to new experiences and risk taking
  • Famous examples are Steve Jobs and Richard Branson

If you’re the manager of someone you perceive to be a maverick, how can you harness those good qualities such as creativity?

Jackson says the most important thing to remember is sometimes individuals are more important than the team. “So often in business these days we focus on how people are good team players. Well, mavericks probably aren’t such good team players – they’re individualists. Sometimes it’s good to let these people just go off and do their own thing – that’s when they’re at their best,” Jackson said.


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  • by Patrick Flaton 13/04/2012 2:02:06 PM

    Finally someone recognises us for who we are. I only hope recruitment agencies recognise the profile and understand why we don't fit into the box!!!

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