#350 from Innovative
Leader Volume 7, Number 7
Anthony is the author of five business books and is President of
Genesis Training Solutions in The Woodlands,TX.
Phone: (281) 364-7739, email:
Not all creative
superstars are like these special folks with monikers such as: eccentric, maverick, space cadet, buccaneer, or wild duck.
Perceived as brilliant misfits or lone wolves, they don’t
fly in formation or march to the same drummer as everyone else.
They see the world quite differently.
But these off-the-wall thinking aficionados can hatch up
mind-boggling unforeseen innovations for their
organizations--enormous contributions that make them tolerable, if
not almost indispensable.
Instead of being
blindly loyal to their organization’s traditions, policies, or
goals, wild ducks are devoted to their own ideas and never-ending
quest for creative coups. They
play by their own rules and agendas and are self-motivated.
As such, they’re resistant to standard carrot-and-stick
incentives that govern others.
But their quirky
or abrasive personalities, radical concepts, and penchant for
rocking the organization’s boat, can give their manager and
co-workers cause for nightmares or drink.
Harvey T., a sales executive for a leading west coast
software company, shook his head and grinned when asked how to
spot these cerebral maestros of mischief, “On the downside,
I’d say many appear independent, brash, ego-driven,
temperamental, self-righteous, and undisciplined.
They’re prima donnas who have ‘brains and attitudes.’
They hate routine, paperwork, and politics.
Some are just different or nerdy--a peculiar sense of
humor, wacky habits and behaviors, and non-conformist dress and
grooming. Others act and appear more conventional, but are recalcitrant
and iconoclastic underneath.
I call them ‘corporate guerrillas in pin stripes.’
But, on the upstroke, with the right project and manager,
they’re all incredibly conscientious, motivated, and wildly
output can spin your head!”
fluttering about, wild ducks can stretch your patience to the
extent that you wonder if it’s worth keeping them around the
corporate pond. They often expect the impossible from you.
But while they’re usually dismissed as unmanageable
“mad scientist” types, you have more options than quarantine
or guillotine. If you
find ways to use, not abuse, them, you’ll turn them into your
organization’s star assets.
It’s a high management calling to focus their
creativity on your business goals and keep them somewhat disciplined and part of
your organization’s cultural mainstream.
But you’re up to it!
Here are proven ways to get your wild ducks flying
straighter during their flights of fancy.
Value from the Off-the-Wall Types
act like a “boss.” A
heavy-handed approach where you order or threaten them produces
devastating results. It
just makes them anxious and stiffens their resolve to go their own
course. They have
problems with “put-on-airs” and control-freak managers.
Don’t expect these independent-minded, proud people to
automatically agree with you just because you’re the honcho.
Direct them lightly and respectfully and be subtle in your
discussions with them.
a coach. Showing
apathy or verbally shredding their cherished ideas causes them
distress since their ideas are a soulful part of them.
They’re unusually sensitive to people’s reactions to
their ideas. They
take it quite personally. So,
it’s critical to give proper feedback to their ideas--timely,
specific, objective, and always constructive.
When appropriate, be generous in your detailed praise of
their work and always start with a positive remark like,
“You’ve put a lot of thought and imagination into that
approach. How did you
come up with it?”
Create a climate of open-mindedness and acceptance for
them--where even zoned out, wacky ideas are not snickered at or
greeted with frigid silence.
patient and listen. The
egos of “superbrains” are like overblown, fragile balloons. They often require kid-glove handling so as not to burst.
Don’t take their insecurity or sensitivity personally.
Just be patient and tactful.
Because they’re often moody and excitable, you may have
to get them to vent their emotions first, before objectively
discussing their work. “You seem concerned (upset, preoccupied)
about something. Want
to talk about it?” One
sales V.P. looked at it this way, “One nice thing about these
egoists--at least they don’t talk about other people.”
resident geniuses are usually high maintenance, but are worth a
little “coddling.” They
hate routine and bland assignments, so stimulate them by giving
them a variety of challenging assignments that stretch their
creative specialties. Give
them plenty of freedom to explore.
Try to minimize reports and administrative duties which
they despise. Let
them decorate their offices as they please.
Permit them some flexible working hours because they
typically get their best ideas outside of 9 to 5.
Don’t pressure them to do activities for “look busy”
sake alone. Instead,
make them accountable for results, not tasks.
They often need to stare out the window, get away alone, or
just veg out to think. Let
them occasionally work at home.
If you force them to rigidly conform, you’ll squash their
imagination and drive.
interference” for them.
Wild ducks typically feel under siege by the corporate
dullards of the world who usually misunderstand and malign them.
Their eccentricity and lack of political savvy makes them
easy targets. With
the higher-ups in your organization, protect them and justify
their unorthodox methods. “Well, you know Maurice.
He’s a unique personality who gets stunning results in
surprising ways. As a
super innovator, he’s solved our two most vexing customer
them in other ways to safely traverse the corporate minefields.
credit. Don’t take
it. A surefire
way to get your wild ducks dive bombing at you is to take (even a
little) credit for their ideas.
They’re super-protective of their ideas.
Instead, shower them with recognition and rewards and put
them squarely in the spotlight of the pond.
them resources. Give
your wild ducks enough resources to be successful.
However, if you need to jolt their creativity further, give
them a slight scarcity of resources.
Their ingenuity will force them to come up with exciting
variations and sparkling new insights to their project.
goals and deadlines. Ultra-creatives
love being immersed in the inspiration phase of innovation.
They’ll want forever to dwell on perfecting their ideas,
rather than doing the less-glamorous arduous work of implementing
them. You need to get
them moving by involving them in planning--setting their own
goals, deadlines and milestones.
Make sure objectives and schedules are challenging, but
monitor and coach them on their progress.
Because they like running their own show their way, avoid
giving them too many explicit directions.
the line in the sand. When
wild ducks become grossly insensitive, unreasonable or
uncooperative, you need to calmly, but firmly, explain that their
actions are not only disrupting the organization and are unfair to
others, but are hurting the success of their prized creative
projects as well. Without
any hint of threats or coercion, objectively inform them of the
negative consequences of their actions.
Telling them, “This is the way it will be, and I’m not
backing down,” is sometimes necessary to get them back in line.
So, if you’re
the frustrated manager of some wild ducks, try managing them for
peak performance. It’s
likely you’ll get very important contributions.