Mavericks (2022) makes a case for maverick leadership. It shows that independent thinkers motivated by meaningful goals can transform their careers and communities – and that anyone can develop their inner maverick by focusing on five key characteristics.
Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Sustainable Business Development, Environmental Economics, Business Management
Introduction: A maverick manifesto
While there’s only one Elon Musk, there are millions of mavericks in the world. The authors of Mavericks interviewed some of them to discover exactly what makes a maverick a maverick – and identified five key characteristics.
In this summary to Mavericks, you’ll discover that the best leaders – the people who really make a difference – are all mavericks . . . and that you, too, can become one! Develop this side of yourself, and be the change you want to see in the world.
In this summary, you’ll also learn
- the secret to successful experimentation;
- how to create a maverick organization; and
- that setting strict rules and a dress code can be an act of rebellion.
Anyone can develop their inner maverick.
Elon Musk. Jacinda Ardern. Steve Jobs. Oprah Winfrey. What do these people all have in common? They’re maverick leaders – independent thinkers who have often taken a rather unorthodox approach to leadership, with amazing results.
But we’re not going to talk about Elon Musk or any of the other famous maverick leaders. Instead, we’re going to focus on something a little bit different: ordinary mavericks. Normal people, just like you and me.
Yes, really. Anyone can be a maverick. It’s not just about your DNA, or whether or not your parents raised you to think for yourself. The authors of Mavericks studied a wide range of maverick leaders, from businesspeople to explosives experts. After hours of research and interviews, they concluded that it wasn’t just nature or nurture that made these people mavericks.
Of course, it’s true that some people are naturally more, well, unorthodox. Take Sidney Alford, for example. This explosives expert showed signs of a maverick nature from an early age. As a child growing up in London during the Second World War, Alford was fascinated by bombs. He would make fireworks using material he found on bomb sites. At school, he even made firecrackers from nitrogen triiodide and put them under the chair of a long-suffering teacher.
Alford later went on to have an extraordinary career as an engineer, creating devices that destroyed terrorist bombs.
Obviously, Alford was special. But the authors are convinced that we’re all born with innate maverick tendencies. Just think of how curious, experimental, and original children can be. As we go through life, it’s up to us whether or not we develop those tendencies.
In other words, you can choose to become a maverick. And it’s a choice you can make again and again.
At this point, you might be wondering, Do we all need to be mavericks? Is it really that important? Well, yes. According to the authors, it is important. We live in a divided and homogenized world, and mavericks are the solution. We need original thinkers, dissenters, and people who are capable of seeing things through the eyes of others.
The end goal is to create maverick societies – and a better world. But before we get ahead of ourselves with ideas for global transformation, we need to think about change on a smaller scale. First, let’s start with the individual. What makes a maverick a maverick anyway?
Mavericks believe in making things better.
During their research, the authors identified five key characteristics that define the maverick spirit. These are the qualities shared by all mavericks, from Steve Jobs to Khadim Hussain – but more on him in a moment.
We’re going to look at these maverick qualities one by one. Once you understand them, you’ll have a better idea of how to live up to your maverick potential.
The first quality is belief – a belief in making things better. Maverick leaders know exactly what needs to change, and they want to make those changes themselves. They’re motivated not by ego or personal preference, but by a desire to make things better.
Khadim Hussain was convinced that things needed to change. He grew up in a village in a remote part of Pakistan. As a child he contracted polio, so he could no longer use his legs. Khadim was determined to keep going to school despite his disability, but he didn’t have a wheelchair. So his friends took him there in a wheelbarrow instead.
When Khadim arrived at school, the teacher sent him home. The message was clear: “People like you can’t go to school.” But Khadim wasn’t going to give up. He wanted an education, and he wanted everyone to be able to go to school. Later, he campaigned for girls’ schools in his village. He had to fight to change people’s mindsets. Many villagers had conservative beliefs and thought that girls were unworthy of an education.
Along the way, Khadim encountered fierce opposition from people in the community, including religious leaders and even his own father. But he remained undeterred. For two decades, Khadim has been campaigning for girls’ education. He’s now a respected leader in his community, and thousands of female students have graduated from the girls’ school he helped set up.
Khadim deeply believes in the importance of education. This strong conviction has helped him to keep going and achieve real change against the odds.
To be a maverick leader like Khadim, you need to remain motivated in spite of opposition and setbacks. And you need to know exactly what you believe in. So ask yourself what you want to change in your company or community. And how are you going to make things better? What are you going to do about it?
Perhaps the words of Gandhi can be a source of inspiration, as they were for another maverick leader interviewed by the authors: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Mavericks are resourceful.
Mavericks want to change things. And in order to change things, they need to be particularly resourceful. Resourcefulness – that’s another quality that all mavericks share.
For maverick leaders, resourcefulness means making connections and identifying opportunities, often in unusual ways. They see potential in unexpected places – potential that might be easily missed by other people. For example, a maverick entrepreneur can spot a gap in the marketplace and introduce original commodities, which lead to exciting new business opportunities.
That’s the definition of resourcefulness – spotting opportunities and then taking advantage of them. You could also think of it in terms of “exploiting capital.”
Let’s take social capital as an example. Resourceful mavericks know the value of social interaction and the exchange of ideas. Even a simple conversation between two people can be the start of a new opportunity. But here’s something interesting. Often, a conversation between two loosely connected people can be more effective than a conversation between two close friends.
Armene Modi is a maverick leader who understands the value of so-called weak ties. When she decided to improve gender equality in India and launch her own NGO, she didn’t just rely on the support of close friends and colleagues. Instead, in her own words, she started “knocking on every door.” She reached out to friends of friends, and people at the very edge of her social networks.
As she circulated her NGO proposal throughout her extended networks, total strangers began to pledge their support. These “weak ties” had a surprisingly strong influence and enabled her to get the NGO off the ground.
Two decades later, the NGO that Modi created – thanks to her network – continues to thrive. And they’ve made a huge step forward in terms of gender equality in India. For instance, in some villages the average age of marriage for girls has risen from 13 to 19.
Even if you’re not planning to set up an NGO or transform society, you can still learn a valuable lesson from Modi’s story. Mavericks who get things done know how to exploit social capital and use their network – all of it. They don’t just rely on close-knit connections.
Yes, it’s nice to work with friends and people you know and trust. But unless you branch out, you won’t get very far. So talk to the people you know, and the people they know, and so on. Go right to the edge of your network – and beyond.
And it doesn’t end there. Remember, you can exploit all kinds of capital in all kinds of situations. Be resourceful.
Mavericks are nonconformists.
Like other maverick leaders, Katharine Birbalsingh is not only resourceful but unconventional. She’s a nonconformist, though maybe not in the way you’d expect.
In 2014, she became the founder and head teacher of the Michaela Community School in London. Birbalsingh’s approach to education is not what you would call fashionable – at least, not by twenty first-century standards. At the Michaela School, students study traditional subjects. Instead of Information Technology, they have Latin classes. The rules are similarly old-school. As they move between classrooms, students are not allowed to talk.
And yes, as you’ve probably guessed by now, there’s also a strict uniform policy. There are even rules about permitted styles of pencil cases. Birbalsingh believes that students benefit from strict discipline and high expectations. And the results speak for themselves. Many of the students at the Michaela School have gone on to achieve impressive academic results. Inspectors called the school “outstanding.”
Birbalsingh’s approach may not be the most obvious example of maverick nonconformity. But in this context, it’s actually pretty radical. Her approach goes against the status quo of education in the UK.
Birbalsingh is a controversial figure among her more progressive colleagues. Before founding the Michaela School, she shared her views at a Conservative Party conference and caused an outcry. According to Birbalsingh, white guilt has a negative impact on minorities in the school system. In her view, people should be held responsible for their own behavior. That means raising the standards and expectations for minority students.
As you can probably imagine, these remarks were hugely controversial among her liberal colleagues. Birbalsingh was forced to resign from her school and was ostracized in her profession.
Of course, Birbalsingh soon got back on her feet and successfully founded the Michaela School. But her experiences show the inevitable risks of a nonconformist approach. As a maverick, you’re probably going to upset people. So be prepared for setbacks.
The authors recommend looking for “fertile ground.” Find a context where you can be an effective nonconformist and put your ideas into practice. That doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job or leaving your community. Sometimes you just have to find a different boss or a new circle of people. Try to join forces with people who get you, even if they don’t always agree with you 100 percent.
Finally, a word of warning: don’t be unorthodox just for the sake of it. Like Birbalsingh, you need to be a rebel with a cause, ready to act in an unconventional way so you can make positive changes.
As you can see, it’s not always easy being a maverick. You’ll face setbacks – and sometimes you’ll even fail.
The prospect of failure can be scary, of course. But mavericks aren’t afraid. They know that while failure is hard, it’s also necessary. That’s what happens when you try something new.
Take riding a bike, for example. How do you learn how to ride a bike? You just do it. You get on the bike. When you fall off, you pick yourself up, get back on the bike, and try again. Keep practicing until you get the hang of it.
Mavericks know this. They understand that making mistakes is an inevitable part of progress.
They also know that often, the best way to learn is through trial and error. They’re willing to experiment and try different approaches until they find something that works.
Of course, saying “just experiment” isn’t that helpful. For the best results, you need to know how to experiment well.
Oscar Corona Lopez, one of the mavericks interviewed by the authors, had a great approach to experimentation. Lopez set up his own company – an agency for a Mexican insurance company. Knowing that the vast majority of startups fail, Lopez realized that he had to be flexible and willing to experiment. Also, he knew that good experimentation begins with asking the right questions.
When he was recruiting for his new company, Lopez asked himself an interesting question: “Where can you find people lining up to take part in something?” The answer? Reality shows like The Voice, where people audition.
Lopez asked a question, found the answer, then created a business hypothesis. He told himself, “If I think of recruitment as an audition process, then I can choose people who are excited about contributing. That way, I’ll have a more successful team.”
Next, Lopez ran the experiment – he designed a fun, creative recruitment process that resembled an audition. Candidates had to make videos about themselves and take part in team activities.
Finally, once the winning candidates had been chosen, Lopez reflected on his experiment. How did these new employees compare to people who had been recruited in a more traditional way? What aspects of the experiment worked well? What could be improved next time?
We can all learn something from Lopez’s recruitment experiment. It’s essentially the framework for any kind of successful experimentation. Ask good questions, come up with a hypothesis, then do some structured experiments. Afterward, assess how things went – and learn from the experience.
That’s how a maverick experiments. Try a similar approach for your next project, and see how it goes.
Mavericks don’t give up.
And what if your well-planned experiment is a total disaster? Well, as we’ve already seen, most mavericks experience failure and setbacks at some point. This is why perseverance is another key characteristic of mavericks. No matter what happens, they remain undeterred.
And they’re undeterred even when they’re facing outright hostility. That’s what happened in the case of Khadim. Remember his story from earlier? As he campaigned for girls’ education in Pakistan, he faced opposition and hostility from so many people in his community, including his own family. But despite everything, he persevered. He didn’t give up.
During their interviews with maverick leaders, the authors identified this common characteristic. These mavericks all had grit and resilience. In the face of difficulty, they kept going.
You might be thinking, Some people are just naturally more resilient. Well, maybe. But anyone can become more resilient. You just need to work out what your goals are – specifically, your higher order goals.
There are different kinds of goals. Some goals are the things you want to get done on a daily basis – practical, short-term objectives. They’re useful for staying focused, obviously. But they’re not necessarily going to keep you going in the face of serious opposition.
When the going gets tough, you’ll need some help from your higher order goals. These are the goals that are deeply rooted in your belief system. They’re your values. Your life philosophy. The things that really matter.
For Khadim, the thing that really mattered was improving access to education and new opportunities. He wanted to make people’s lives better. These were his higher order goals – and his life philosophy.
In their interviews with leaders, the authors noticed a clear trend. All the mavericks mentioned their goals and philosophies. They didn’t always state them explicitly, but they made it clear that they were driven by a sense of intrinsic purpose. The mavericks talked about the importance of recognizing the potential in others, fighting for the underdog, or making a positive impact in their country.
If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to ask yourself, What’s my life philosophy? And then, What are the higher order goals that will guide my actions?
Once you know the answers, you’ll find that you can be surprisingly resilient – just like other mavericks. And you’ll understand the true importance of your work.
Become a maverick leader and achieve your higher purpose.
For mavericks, their professional life is personal. When you’re working in alignment with your higher order goals and life philosophy, the job itself can become a source of meaning and satisfaction.
A good maverick leader is focused on making things better without ego – without arrogance. But along the way, they may discover an amazing sense of self-fulfillment through their work.
Just consider the fact that we’re basically wired to work. It’s in our DNA. Our earliest ancestors did everything in small groups, cooperating and socializing while they worked. And it’s the same today. We find group activities fulfilling.
So if we’re all born with an inner maverick, and we all gain satisfaction from working with others, it’s no wonder maverick leadership can be so rewarding.
We’ve looked at a few ideas for fulfilling your maverick potential. You can do some soul-searching like Khadim Hussain and decide what you want to change and why it matters so much to you. And you can carry out some experiments, using the framework that worked so well for Oscar Lopez.
The authors also have some other practical suggestions inspired by their interviews with mavericks, as well as their own experiences in business.
First, be curious. Mavericks are always curious. Aim to connect with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and then engage with curiosity. That means asking some good questions, and listening carefully to what is said – and not said.
After the conversation, make some notes. This tip comes from the maverick Keith Coats, who works at the futurist consultancy TomorrowToday. Coats suggests keeping a journal of all these interesting conversations – it can become a great resource and learning tool.
Over the years, Coats has had “curiosity conversations” with all kinds of people, including authors, business owners, a homeless man, and a monk who had done a 10-year silent retreat.
If you have a curious attitude, you’ll learn more. And leaders have to be learners in order to adapt and thrive.
Here’s a second simple suggestion that can help you develop another maverick quality: take an experimental approach to life. Experiments don’t have to be big projects. They can be small-scale things you do every day. Each night, before you go to bed, come up with an idea for an experiment you want to start the next day. And then start it!
Try to be experimental every single day; do or say something new. Remember, being a maverick is all about repeated choices and actions. It’s a never-ending journey of development.
Organizations can be maverick too.
It’s time to look at the bigger picture. The world needs not just maverick individuals, but maverick organizations who can in turn create better societies. Remember, mavericks aim high!
But what exactly does a maverick organization look like? How do you create one or change an existing company to make it more maverick?
The story of the Dutch bank ING shows that anything is possible. This traditional company underwent something of a revolution in 2015.
The main change was a drastic reorganization of the most senior staff. They were divided first into 13 “tribes” and then 350 “squads,” each consisting of nine people.
These “squads” of staff now work together in multidisciplinary teams. There’s no need for steering committees, project managers, or any kind of unnecessary hierarchies or bureaucracy. Staff can interact and network in a more informal way rather than waste time in meetings, and there’s greater transparency all around. The office now feels more like a college campus.
ING’s maverick makeover was made possible by bold leadership decisions. Interestingly, the changes were inspired not by other banks but by tech companies like Spotify.
And if we were to define these changes in one word, it would probably be “adhocracy.” ING became an adhocracy – an organization with a flexible, less hierarchical structure. Staff look outward, toward the customer, rather than up toward the boss.
An adhocratic structure is a clear sign of a maverick organization. So think about how your company is structured. If it’s old-fashioned – hierarchical and bureaucratic – think about ways to shake up the system.
There are plenty of maverick practices you can apply to pretty much any organization. Of course, for many traditional companies, becoming maverick requires a fundamental shift in approach. It entails a willingness to experiment, for example, or organizing around the problem that needs solving rather than the role that needs filling.
These changes don’t happen overnight. But they can happen, especially when driven by a maverick leader – a maverick like you, for instance.
We’ve come to the end of this summary to Mavericks by David Giles Lewis, Jules Goddard, and Tamryn Batcheller-Adams.
Let’s take a look at the maverick manifesto as it sums up this summary perfectly: “I am a nonconformist. I am resourceful, resilient, and experimental. I want to make things better, and I know how. In life, I am guided by a clear vision of my higher order goals and personal philosophy.” Make this manifesto your own to unleash your inner maverick. In doing so, you’ll find self-fulfillment, improve your organization, and maybe even change the world.
One step you could take right now is to ask a coworker, “How should I change to bring out the best in you?” When the other person makes some suggestions, you can reply, “In order for me to change, it would help me if you changed your own behavior in this way.” And so on. It’s a fantastic ice-breaker that relies on trust – and also helps create it. In this way, you can start growing a network of people who support you.
About the author
David Lewis has 35 years of experience in business and academia. He is a consultant and sought-after speaker working with global business leaders. In 2019, David was cited on Thinkers 50 Radar of top global management thinkers. David’s research with co-author Alison Reynolds focuses on diversity and performance – the ability of teams and organizations to thrive in the face of new, uncertain and complex situations. With Alison, David developed the Qi Index, a tool to help leaders understand and enhance the quality of interaction between people to better formulate and execute groundbreaking strategies.
Jules Goddard has spent most of his career at London Business School, first as a Professor of Marketing and latterly as an architect of its action learning programmes for corporate clients. He served as the inaugural Gresham Professor of Commerce, and is currently on the faculty of CEDEP, Fontainebleau, France. He is a member of the Council of the Royal Institute of Philosophy.
Tamryn Batcheller-Adams is a psychologist, leadership presenter, consultant and coach working internationally with TomorrowToday Global. As a practising psychologist with two Masters’ degrees in psychology, Tamryn focuses on leadership, team and individual development. Having worked with leaders across 20 countries, Tamryn utilizes frameworks with a focus on building adaptability, emotional agility, resilience, stress management, selfawareness, social awareness and team cohesion to enhance personal, professional and collective growth. She co-designs, facilitates and coaches in Senior Executive Leadership Programmes and is a registered Enneagram (personality) specialist based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Table of Contents
Praise for Mavericks
List of figures and tables
About the authors
Must do better
Everyone wants to make the world a better place
What differentiates the Maverick leader?
Maverick leaders exercise their freedom for the good of the collective
A Maverick collective
The Maverick organization
The Maverick leadership principle
What is so special about Mavericks?
How do we recognize a Maverick?
What kind of leader is a Maverick leader?
Who are our exemplars?
What is the structure of the book?
No long-range missile is going to prevent a crippling cyberattack
Taking matters in your own hands
You learn as you go
Going to school in a wheelbarrow
What keeps you going?
Why am I here?
The Maverick leader mindset
‘Maverick’ and ‘leader’
The Maverick leader within
02 What makes a Maverick leader?
We are born creative, explorative and challenging – and then?
A performance mindset or a master mindset?
It is never too late
From wanting to win, to wanting to do good ‘for people and planet’
The catalyst: when competence and circumstances connect
The right thing to do
Our Maverick spirit can be stirred at any point in life
Breadth of early life, depth of later life
Freedom with belonging
Connecting the dots
Three kinds of capital
The social functioning of the brain
Are we living in the age of connection?
The Maverick as maven
A behavioural theory of networking
Truth to one’s mission
Do it your way
Collaborate with others
Question, hypothesize, experiment and learn
We discover by doing
Failure is hard but necessary
Trial and error
Curiosity and playfulness
Think for yourself
Bending, breaking and blending
The professional is personal
A blank canvas
Life philosophy and higher-order goals
Invest in yourself
We all have it within us
07 Maverick styles of leadership
Leadership is in our DNA
Organizational distortions of leadership
Non-hierarchical forms of leadership
The emergence of the Maverick leader
The Maverick leader’s relationship to the concept of leadership itself
What sets the Maverick leader apart?
Leading with intent
Leading the movement
08 Maverick forms of organization
The organizational challenge
The First Machine Age and its bureaucratic culture
Managerialism in crisis
The Maverick hemisphere
The Second Machine Age and its technocratic culture
The Maverick organization and its adhocratic culture
The choice of architecture of a Maverick culture
09 Maverick states of society
What enhances human accomplishment?
Back to the future
The Maverick leader’s sense of responsibility
Taking personal responsibility
The Maverick leader’s sense of community
Where business fits in
10 Becoming a Maverick leader
We need to be more resourceful
Building a diverse and open network
Engage your network with curiosity
The ladder of inference
We need to be more nonconformist
We need to be more experimental
Strengthening your resolve
Higher-order goals and life philosophy
Summary: becoming a Maverick leader
How many of our business leaders truly embody the change needed in the world of work and beyond? Not nearly enough. This book shows you how to reclaim your power to make a difference, by unleashing your inner maverick.
Organizations are where the world’s most innovative and impactful talents lie; we have the ingenuity, the technology and the resources to change the world for the better. Discover how to awaken the maverick mindset in you; one that will question, debate and enhance. Mavericks are the key to answering some of the world’ most pressing challenges; they don’t settle for anything less, and neither should you. Mavericks shows you how being a maverick isn’t about shooting from the hip and rocking the boat for the sake of it, it’s about demanding better of yourself and your organization for the wider good.
In Mavericks, business consultants, London Business School faculty members and authors David Lewis and Jules Goddard guide you through the five characteristics that you can develop to become a maverick leader. From passionate belief, an undeterred attitude, being resourceful, being directional and finally experimenting, these characteristics are the blueprint for you to grow into an iconic and positive change maker. The focus is not on what becoming a leader can do for you, but on what you can do to make the world a better place.
“I was declared a Maverick in the mid-nineties in the brand new (read charmless, uncomfortable and desperately boring) boardroom of a multinational corporation. That day, my boss used this term to qualify my contribution to the collective efforts of our European board. Twenty-five years of Maverick-ability later, I know that this is not a title of glory, nor an actual job title but a desperate attempt by many executives to escape the status quo and corporate nonsense. A Maverick attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. Society and organizations are suffering from a huge appetite for conformity and a subsequent lack of “fantaisie”. Make your voice heard and join the Mavericks club, it’s never too late.” – Christophe Gillet, Programme Director, CEDEP and former Director of Business Innovation, Sony Business Europe
“Reading this delightful and incisive book, I recalled a line Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” All of us are capable of being Mavericks – those who see a gap between what is and what could be. The five characteristics of Mavericks herein are profound, a guiding light you can refer to over and over to avoid fatalism. By fusing all five of these traits, you will transform into an effective rebel with a cause, contributing to a flourishing life for all.” – Ronald J Baker, Host, The Soul of Enterprise Podcast, Founder, Verasage Institute and Bestselling author of ‘Implementing Value Pricing’
“Mavericks drive progress and the world needs many more – this book shows why.” – Sir James Dyson
“Mavericks is an optimistic book about how we can do better. When something is wrong and we don’t stand up for improvement, we fail ourselves and everyone. This book shows how Maverick leaders who are “normal” people (like us) use their belief, determination and courage to ameliorate the world; it also discusses creating an environment for such change. Much needed right now; no other book challenges us like this, for the good of all.” – Diana Ambache, Founder, Ambache Charitable Trust and pioneer of The Revival of Classical Music by Women
“With Mavericks, Lewis, Goddard, and Batcheller-Adams have identified the essence of entrepreneurship. They demonstrate that innovation and creativity can occur anywhere so long as one person remains, as they put it, “undeterred in the face of ridicule, resistance and outright hostility”. The book itself creates a movement, just like the Maverick leaders identified therein. I hope to join this movement and change our world for the better.” – Ed Kless, Host, Sage Thought Leadership Podcast and Co-Host, The Soul of Enterprise Podcast
“Release your inner Maverick – this ground-breaking book gives everyone a manual for how to make a difference at work and in society.” – James Purnell, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of the Arts London
“I love everything about this book. The world needs more Mavericks!” – Julia Hobsbawm, Founder, Editorial Intelligence
“This book is truly liberating! Armed with a Maverick mindset, ordinary people can become inspirational leaders. Packed full of practical examples, this is a ground-breaking toolkit that awakens the characteristics within, so you can become an inspirational and Maverick leader. Mavericks gives you the inspiration to say “I can” and the confidence to say “I will”. Bravo!” – Jez Groom, Founder, CEO, Cowry Consulting
“Mavericks is a very different take on the type of leadership we need if we are going to tackle the monumental challenges we face. It is one I recognize and heartily endorse. The book is a refreshing, exhilarating read whether you want to use it for personal inspiration or to assess the world in which you operate on a day-to-day basis. It is also practical and gives you the tools to nurture your own inner Maverick, or those of the people around you.” – Gary Lubner, CEO, Belron International