Rebels, misfits, renegades, heretics or troublemakers whatever you call them, are commonly seen as difficult to work with. Why? Because their strengths (driven, talented, smart and impatient in achieving outcomes) can sometimes make them come across as assholes and go rogue.
I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who’s been labeled a troublemaker and who’s dealt with them. I think there’s a misunderstanding about trouble makers, and you have to separate the the ones who are misfits from the assholes. Misfits and assholes give a f**k. The difference is misfits care about the progress of the company, not themselves.
Assholes are divas who want the spotlight on them. Misfits are there to highlight problems and are proactive in fixing them. Misfits are seen as trouble makers and difficult because they won’t let up and are not afraid to shake up the status quo.
With that out of the way, you have to focus your energies on the positive misfits and let go of the assholes. Your job as a leader is to manage “difficult” people in a way that doesn’t kill the company by:
- Recognizing their strengths. Misfits are the opposite of stable, and that’s great because innovation is the opposite of easy. Misfits share common traits, you have to recognize and value them in order to know why they matter and how to use them.
- Coaching to help them work well with others and avoid getting into “asshole” territory. To manage for innovation means you have to hire individual brilliance, value it, and then figure out a way to make it work in a group setting. Misfits are impatient optimists, and can get under people’s skin and run the risk of going rogue. You have to make sure, through coaching, that they can work with others.
- Supporting them by removing obstacles in their path. One way innovators go into asshole territory is when they take matters into their own hands and work to kill obstacles in their way.
- Unleashing them and getting out of their way. You have embrace the misfits if you want innovation. This means you have to create the conditions for them to flourish, not the other way around, and then get out of their way. You have to be aware, and understand, they will cause tension because they go against the status quo.
Bottom line: As misfits, we don’t need to be motivated or prodded, we need freedom and a challenge. We’re not motivated by the spotlight, nor are we in it to kill the company. We’re driven to make things better, not worse, and understand that takes risks. Have a conversation and aim to understand us if you want to deal and get the most out of us.