Mentoring the Mavericks - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Mentoring the Mavericks



Pharmaceutical and life sciences attracts talented mavericks, those that I define to be wilfully independent and dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and innovation. They tend to be insular and unlikely to be very concerned with working within company boundaries or interacting well with their team members. This can mean that their talent gets burnt out as they fight with the company infrastructure or they wear out colleagues and line managers. Frustration and desperation can occur on both sides.

This is a terrible waste of talent for both the scientist and the organization that has invested heavily in their acquisition, development and nurturing. When you have scientists that are amongst your best performers, sought after by your competition how do you ensure that they remain happy in your organization? Money isn't enough to secure them.

This introverted maverick (who prefers their own company or other experts like themselves) will not want to mix readily with others that they believe are not as clever as they are. They will be dismissive towards them and is unlikely to afford others with the respect that they deserve. Unlike extroverted mavericks who have a ready charm, and enjoys the company of others, introverted mavericks are more likely to be described as insular and have a passive aggressive personality.

This diagnosis is more likely to be born out of misunderstanding; mavericks (introverted and extroverted) tend to defy classical management techniques and their annoyance can be undetected for a long time as it is hidden beneath their visible successes.  This frustration will eventually lead to desperate attempts by the maverick to alleviate their tension with dire consequences for the organization and their colleagues. In an environment like this collaborative working from your scientist can seem an impossible dream. The first step to regaining the natural balance is to realise that an individualistic approach to managing the team is required. Often, a maverick will need to be treated differently to everyone else and the trick is to find a way of treating them which is specifically tailored for their maverick tendencies, whilst ensuring it remains consistent with the wider employee programme.

Helping Harness Maverick Talent
Ironically, mavericks are much more sensitive to being 'micro-managed' than other employees, challenging even the simplest of tasks if they think they are being managed rather than led. Often, they refuse to accept instructions that the rest of the team abide by, enjoying their independence and feeling of being in control of their own destiny. As a result they will fight hard to maintain this independence, even if it is likely to go against them in the long run, making it impossible to follow most standard all embracing management approaches.

Mavericks are extremely confident by nature and need to be certain of their success before completing their tasks. This behaviour can manifest itself in a number of ways. The most important thing to a maverick is recognition and ignoring them is not an option! Failure to recognise their achievements will only result in the engagement of more and more unproductive activities designed to force you to notice them for their ability to cause trouble!

It is clear that the only way to satisfy the maverick's specific needs whilst providing the consistency required by the rest of the company is to adopt a leadership style which steers the maverick towards the desired outcome, whilst allowing the maverick to have an agreed, defined amount of autonomy. This will be tricky as mavericks tend to be completely oblivious to the effect that their bluntness has on the morale of others and it can be tempting to revert back to tradition management techniques to bring them back into line Ð but this must be resisted and replaced with sound, tailored leadership techniques.

Remember, mavericks need boundaries and they will respect you if you enforce them in the right way. Troublesome mavericks need to be given a compelling reason to change their current behaviour and if you manage them correctly, you can unleash their creativity and insight to the benefit of the entire organization.

When Maverick Mentoring and Management Training Makes the Difference
Mavericks, or Troublesome Talent¨ as they are sometimes known, tend to respond to those that they trust, find credible and when they have been providing with a compelling reason for change. We were contacted by an organization that had a talented maverick in their employment. The maverick was engaged in a very specialist role, insular in nature and was not interacted well with her colleagues. Whilst she was interacting well with the customer (because she enjoyed this demonstration of her expertise), she was ignoring work instructions (an unnecessary nuisance, that stopped her from doing what she enjoyed) and generally causing disturbance and bad feelings amongst her colleagues.

Her manager was extremely frustrated because whilst outside stakeholders were impressed with her abilities, the performance of the department and ultimately the company was being depressed as her work colleagues were actively trying to undermine her or refusing to work collaboratively. This had a knock on effect on the maverick's morale who whilst enjoying the work was beginning to despair. This despair was not noticeable to her work colleagues and only became noticeable once we had begun working with her.

We were asked to work with the maverick because the manager was being pressured to sack her, but he could see the talent that she had and wanted to retain her. We were the maverick's last resort. We mentored the maverick and the change in her attitude and performance was immediate. The department performance was turned round and the organisation's future was secure. We were retained to train the leadership team on how to manage the mavericks in their organization which was a magnet for attracting maverick talent.

Scientists can be highly creative people, requiring leadership and delicate management. Standard management techniques will often fail to motivate and release their creativity, causing much loss to the scientist and the organization. Understanding their nature can often be the key to unlocking their natural curiosity and innovation.

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