Leadership: The myth of the maverick
Does our love affair with mavericks – from Ronald Reagan to Steve Jobs – make sense?
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That works, Sinek says, as long as they hire a good details guy – a competent chief operating officer – to handle everything else.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Palus of the CCL, on the other hand, has a less celebratory view of mavericks. Organizations need leadership across the company, he says, and mavericks aren't so good at working so broadly. They may do well in a limited part of a company or organization, he says, "but unfortunately in the rest of the organization, there's a lot of disconnection.... A maverick is highly functional in his own [section], but in the long run ... [he's] not very good for the organization."
Palus prefers what he calls a "new school of leadership," one that places less emphasis on a heroic individual and instead favors something more group-based and relationship-driven. He calls it "connected leadership," and it's about letting even people without positions of authority assert themselves as leaders when their skills or networks are called for. That's more difficult than cultivating individuals – and their biographies – as symbols of a brand or a mission. It's also, alas, more boring: Palus and his team build connected leadership in trainings and consultations, neither of which makes a very interesting story when retold outside.
Ironically, CCL's research suggests that businesses still lean toward the myth of the maverick. In simulations, CCL found that business executives replacing top leadership choose outsiders if they feel the company is in trouble and hire insiders if they feel the company is stable. The instinct plays out consistently in simulations – but doesn't always work in the real world, according to Palus.
"It's too disruptive" to bring an outsider into top management at a turbulent time, he says. "It breaks [down] already weak ties ... in the organization even further."
A maverick moment's effect
Though you probably haven't heard of him, Senator Atkinson is something of a local maverick in Oregon – or at the very least not a stereotypical Republican. Earlier this year, for example, he cosponsored bills to ban plastic bags in Oregon stores. But his most personally meaningful maverick moment came last January, when his friend Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, was shot at a public meeting in Tucson.
The shooting came just months after the 2010 elections – marked nationally, as well as in Oregon, by militant rhetoric and bitter fighting, Atkinson remembers.
"We had just come off of very, very dirty campaigns, and there was a lot of really raw emotion," he says. "You had a lot of very upset and wounded people serving in the Oregon Senate."
The Giffords shooting resonated with Atkinson, who had himself been accidentally shot nearly three years before. Atkinson weighed whether to speak out against the extremity of political rhetoric, locally and nationally.
"Nobody wanted to say anything because everybody understands the anger" that was in the air after fierce campaigns on both sides, he says. "If you say something, you know you're going to get beat up on talk radio, and by the critics.... But in my mind, something had to be said."