This post isn’t for everyone, and it’s not for every organization. I’m admitting that from the get-go.
Some folks–good folks, mind you–will read this and think it’s for the birds, and that’s fine. It really is. Some organizations don’t, can’t, and won’t embrace the idea that follows; and they probably don’t have any desire to. Again, that’s fine. Accepting or not accepting the idea doesn’t make anyone or any organization any more or any less intelligent, enlightened, or fantastic. It just means it’s not them.
But enough rambling. Here’s the advice: Encourage the oddballs.
Most organizations have at least a few folks who aren’t like every single other person in corporate America, but many organizations and leaders don’t know what to do with them. Some organizations will throw their proverbial hands up in the air in consternation, frustrated at their inability to control and precisely predict the oddball. Eventually, both they and the oddball will get so uncomfortable with each other that one or the other will call it quits.
But there’s another option. You see, often it’s those oddballs that think about things a little differently. They think of new and different ways of doing things. Sure, it may be unorthodox, and yes, maybe even a little weird; but it’s these people who are so valuable to organizations.
They might think of a product or service that no one in their right mind would have thought of. (Cliche example alert: Think Apple. They do this over and over and over again.) Or maybe they conceptualize a better way for departments to be structured and relate to each other. Their management style might be outside the norm, but somehow it’s strangely effective.
We have to remind ourselves–especially as leaders–that these humans we have the privilege of working with are amazing, unique, crazy, awesome, hard-to-figure-out things. And organizations are made up of clumps of ’em. Anyone who thinks there’s a template for that is crazy.
So what about those oddballs? Here are some tips.
1. Encourage the oddballs by creating space for them to be themselves.
I’m not saying to rearrange your entire organization around an individual, but it’s OK to allow for individuals’ differences, idiosyncrasies, and unique ways of doing what they do.
2. Encourage the oddballs by being OK with their oddness.
You know what? Normal is overrated. (More on this below.) Odd is different. Odd can be interesting. Odd makes you think. And odd reminds us that we’re all human and different. What a terrible existence it would be if we were all identical corporate cogs.
3. Encourage the oddballs by realizing that creative people aren’t what others might consider “normal.”
This makes sense. They’ll go about things a little differently sometimes. Maybe they do their best work early in the morning. Maybe they’re brilliant late at night. Maybe they have to break up their work into shorter bursts. Maybe they have to change their environment often. Maybe they need to stay put for hours at a time. Maybe they need music. Maybe they need silence. Maybe they need others around. Maybe they need solitude. Who knows? Just try to give them space to work in ways that seem weird–even counterproductive–to you.
4. Encourage the oddballs by resisting the urge to try to make them more like you.
This can be so, so hard. As leaders, we’re especially prone to, well, “leading” people to be more like we want them to be. We tell them exactly how to do something instead of giving them the leeway to get it done in a way that plays to their strengths. We prescribe the steps they should take instead of describing the results the team needs. We give them the hours we want rather than the goals we want to hit.
Bottom line? Encourage the oddballs.