A Knowledge @ Wharton article titled How to be an Effective Organizational Maverick is worthwhile reading continuous improvement leaders, lean managers, change agents or anyone refusing to accept the status quo as the best or only way to do things.
We use the word “maverick” to mean independent person who does not go along with the group. In ranching terms, it describes animals that are unbranded. By extension, it refers to the person who, unlike other ranchers, doesn’t brand their cattle. The original maverick was 19th century Texas rancher Samuel A. Maverick who refused to brand his cattle.
In many ways, those of us who are part of an organization and are trying to change it from the inside are mavericks. We do not conform to the so-called normal way of doing things. Our eyes are open to the difference between value and waste. We refuse conform to the prevailing culture that lets problems remain hidden, unexamined and unaddressed. We have seen a better way. We want others to see it also.
The maverick lean leader who has tried to change the mindset and behavior of an organization from within is familiar with the many challenges this presents. Telling the other ranchers that they are stupid and wrong will not get them to stop branding their cattle. But we can’t leave it alone. There is a very real need to change the ways of the other ranchers. Unbranded cattle do not stay that way for long in a world full of ranchers with hot brands. In organizational terms, the prevailing culture is stronger, and will erode away any improvements we make to the system.
The article describes what makes organizational mavericks effective, restated here in lean management terms
1-Leave ego aside and put the organization’s success first. If it is more important to win an argument or be right than to make another ally, ego is getting in the way. A very common conversation I have with lean leaders or CI managers is “How do I convince my boss?” or senior executives. This is the wrong question to ask, if it is coming from a place of ego and self-interest. Instead, the same question asked from a desire to serve may be “How can I understand the challenges my boss is facing and how CI can help address them?”
2-Hold steady purpose based on sound principles, facts and morality. The effective maverick has a well-developed belief system based on experience and learning which can be logically argued. It is not dogmatic and is open to further development. For lean leaders this should be the easiest part, due to the nature of the subject matter. However, if they have not done their homework, or if their purpose and belief system is half-baked or subject to change on whim, they will not be effective.
3-Stay cool, civil and respectful in the face of resistance without compromising the substance of the message. Being right is not enough to persuade people. Evidence is not enough. We have to meet people where they are. If people are opposed to the change we propose, we need to understand their reasons why, and accept that some may not be rational. How we say it is often more important than what we say, in these situations. This mix of being rational but accepting that others may be irrational, being passionate while not being emotionally threatening, is not an easy balancing act.
4-Protect the organization. Part of the maverick’s role is to stir things up. This may cause conflict that boils over beyond the team, the site or the organization. When the maverick forgets rule #1 they may express frustration to people outside of the company, get involved in personal politics, lose their objectivity and ability to facilitate positive change. It’s time to revisit rules #2 and #3.
Two key points from the article, in conclusion; “being right doesn’t automatically produce success” and you won’t get very far if you “fail to build human relationships and articulate their divergent views in ways that invite others to listen.”