How do we put up with the oddballs at work who can neither be ignored nor paid too much attention
When you think of Sidhu, Subramanyam Swamy, Mani Shankar Aiyar collectively what comes to your minds. Do you think of their achievements or oratory brilliance in the public space or their off the cuff remarks through which they sometimes embarrass their party men? I leave it to you to decide, depending on how you process them. It must be quite an ask for their well-behaved statesmen like colleagues to deal with them often. Let’s also not forget that there must be something unique about them that keeps them in their organization. How do their leaders internalize their consistently inconsistent behaviours which they need to defend frequently; or do their leaders continuously silently suffer?
Would that be the right description of our senior colleagues who put us in similar embarrassing situations by their behaviours or quotes? Their odd behaviours may occasionally be overlooked or need damage control. It is a catch 22 for HR or the CEOs as some of these watermouths are also exceptional talent and perform their job well. Yes, their expertise and track record would have brought them to their current glory. However, their tenure can be a ticking time bomb as their team wouldn’t know when the next obnoxious comment is coming. The social media platform can be an explosive stage for such oddballs who forget that they are representing their organization while shooting their mouth. On the positive side, we can call them the Mavericks or the adventurous who make the workplace more interesting?
Punching above the weight
That’s how one of my bosses used to describe me in my absence. However, he never mentioned this directly as I used to contribute to his revenues significantly. In my younger days in a benevolent organization, I think I used to shoot my mouth either out of overconfidence or arrogance. My excuse was it is in my DNA to say things as I see them. I don’t know if I have paid any price for those behaviours. But, some of my colleagues later told me that I was packed off to another assignment in the disguise of a promotion. It seems my boss was done having a prickly shirt in his team.
One of the CTOs who worked with us also used to give us creeps. He was a very knowledgeable technocrat but also famous for his controversial outbursts. Once in a town hall, our COO launched a tech platform and asked for early adopters feedback, the CTO shot back saying only an ignorant will criticize it. On another occasion, he threw his blackberry in disgust as the CEO and a stunned executive team watched helplessly. He knew his role was critical and was confident of his unique techno skills, and maybe felt entitled to his boorish behavior. Soon the CEO made some structural changes to limit the CTO’s share of the limelight and the writing was on the wall. Predictably the CTO resigned and there was a massive sigh of relief than any worry about the future of technology. I have to admit that during his four years tenure the organization moved leaps and bounds in terms of technology though many of us cringed at the sight of him.
In the world of work, large corporations are less tolerant of maverick behaviors and take quick actions. The code of conduct or other indoctrinations produced by large organizations are an attempt to control these adventurous employees. Many of them don’t allow their leaders to participate in social media conversations fearing transgressions. When they can’t control these outbursts, employers often push these oddballs to parking roles to limit the damage.
Picture the contrast. As a leader, if a bunch of sycophants surrounds you; They may not even open their mouth even if you are drowning. Yes, for a narcissist leader, yes-men make for a perfect setting than trying to calm down a bunch of errant misfits. Some of the current political parties leaders display this self-serving trait and that culture is preserved or encouraged as it might suit their leaders. Imagine this; you have your global CEO visiting your country operations and does an all hands talk. A couple of watermouths say the new global strategy isn’t in the best interest of your country or the new benefits policy is not competitive. How would the local country head or the visiting CEO feel? He is likely to get out of the meeting and ask the HR who those idiots were? He would rather prefer a town hall where some long-tenured loyalists appreciate the culture and how it should be continued.
I believe in the organizational context, the oddballs are necessary. We all know that we don’t prefer to go recruiting for them. But, when we discover such colleagues who possess the guts and bravery to present a mirror or play devils’ advocate, we shouldn’t mind them. The plus point of oddballs I have seen is that they like standing out, which means they consistently perform to ensure their behaviour doesn’t harm their maverick behaviour. These are the people whom you can count on for turnarounds or take on the competition when the going gets tough. They can be significant assets in adversary situations. In Politics, mavericks are very precious as they can say things their leaders wish not to say in the name of political correctness.
The utility of the oddballs is never in question whether in politics or organizations. The only issue is one doesn’t know the damage their next muckraking comment can inflict as there is a thin line between being outspoken and abrasive. The oddballs definitely get used by political parties but I doubt if large enterprises know how to get the best of out of them. Only in entrepreneurial settings mavericks are tolerated and may thrive longer.
Going by the new the ministerial inductees it is clear that the oddballs do run off the favor. In the long run, we all need people who say the things we want to hear or meet the so-called organizational décor?