Managing the Crazy Ones

light-bulb-garden-smlHere’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Apple Commercial, 1997

Within every great company, you will find at least one person who was crazy enough to do the impossible. They challenged assumptions, took risks, broke rules, went rogue and thought differently. They disrupted entire industries, made billions of dollars, became famous, built empires, and changed the world. Who are the crazy ones? Steve Jobs. Richard Branson. Walt Disney. Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Mark Zuckerberg. Tony Hsieh. Elon Musk.

We hold these wildly successful CEOs in high esteem. We hang on their every word during speeches and line our bookshelves with their biographies. We study the path they took to success as if it is a blueprint for our own career path.

But these “crazy ones” weren’t always CEOs. And they didn’t become “crazy ones” once they became CEOs. Being a “crazy one” is innate. You were born to follow rules or you were born to break them. Before the esteemed CEOs listed above were leaders, they were college students, interns, individual contributors, researchers, developers, and sales team members. More than likely, they were also some manager’s nightmare.

For every Richard Branson of the world, there are thousands of other rebels who break rules and take risks that fail. And those rebels have managers who have to strike a balance between giving the “crazy one” freedom to test their ideas while also ensuring the security of the overall business.

The crazy ones have an opportunity to become legends and change the world, but in the meantime, someone has to manage them. Rebels and misfits don’t suffer fools. They have opinions about everything and aren’t afraid to share them. They have no tolerance for incompetence, bureaucracy, or hierarchy. They have tons of questions and have no interest in maintaining the status quo. And they are full of ideas and expect you to be open to trying them.

Hiring someone who wants to change the world suddenly doesn’t sound as glamorous as it used to, right?

Managing a workplace maverick is exhausting. But the passion, creativity, and critical thinking they bring to a team make them worth the effort. First, remember that a rebel must be coached, not managed. They feel constrained by rules and routines. So you’ll need to give them space and autonomy. To keep a maverick engaged, let them explore new ideas, but keep them focused on areas that fit the larger organizational strategy.

A rebel who has been coached on how to effectively present ideas to build a following and who can identify key decision makers is one step closer to becoming the next disruptive CEO. Leading a workplace maverick is not only a challenge, but also a tremendous personal responsibility. It is up to you to groom today’s crazy genius team member into the kind of crazy one who will someday change the world.