The Maverick Boss

Several people have sent in emails asking how to deal with Maverick bosses. Here’s one from Denise in Chicago:

“I work in a healthcare facility, and report to one of the directors. He likes to think of himself as a maverick, who likes to do things differently – sometimes for no really good reason. It wouldn’t be so bad, except I’m the one that has to deal with the frustrated people, and pick up the pieces when things don’t go well…”

The Maverick is a person who doesn’t like to feel bound by rules or protocols, and actively pushes against them – even when they’re good ones. In some ways it’s his (her) way of asserting himself and establishing that he is somehow above these things. These characters may make for interesting television and movies, but they’re extraordinarily difficult to work with. It’s hard to establish yourself as a strong team player when your boss is telling you to ignore the rules of the game. If you follow his protocol-flaunting behavior, you run the risk of being painted with the same brush. If you ignore him, you risk upsetting the person who signs your performance review.

With this boss, it’s important that you firmly establish yourself and the role that you are willing to play. It is, after all, possible to be in a support role without compromising yourself. You can support a crusader without supporting the crusade.

As with so many things, you want to be firm, but you also want to be gentle. Here’s an effective approach:

1. Set up a time for a private discussion

2. Establish your credentials

E.g. “Boss, I’m pretty good at what I do around here. I do x, y and z…” This isn’t a time to be modest. Let your boss know that you know your value.

3. Establish your commitment to the job and the company

E.g. “I really enjoy what I do, and I like the company”

4. State your discomfort

E.g. “My work style is a little different than yours. Where you don’t mind rocking the boat or ruffling feathers, that’s not part of my comfort zone (Make sure to have one or two specific examples here). I prefer to have a strong working relationship with my coworkers.

5. Ask for a solution

E.g. “Is there any way that I can keep doing the things I’m good at without being put in these uncomfortable situations?”

Your Maverick boss now has three choices. He can ignore what you said, in which case he knows he’ll have an unhappy employee. He can decide that you’re not a good fit for him and find a replacement, in which case you’d no longer be working for a boss who’s driving you crazy (oh shucks). The most likely response, though, is that he will take you quite seriously. Chances are he’s never before considered the impact of the things he’s asked you to do.

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