The 5 key traits of a maverick leader

Three cheerful businesswomen walking together in an office

How best can we describe the key traits of a Maverick leader? Well, let me introduce you to Urvashi Sahni

Urvashi recalls being an independent and resourceful young mind right from the age of nine years old when she coordinated her classmates into replicating a play from their textbooks and used it as a local fundraiser. As a young married woman in India, she was prevented from attending university classes, however she explained that she “was never willing to accept boundaries” so got her bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Sociology and Economics though home-based self-learning. Fast forward a few years and Urvashi felt the available courses did not sufficiently answer the questions she had about life, gender equality and meaning. So instead of following a set curriculum, Urvashi asked girls to write down questions they had, and, combined with her own experiences, at the age of 26 years old Urvashi designed a course in Philosophy and Education, to equip girls with critical thinking skills, social skills and most importantly, agency. The capacity to imagine a life different to the one society had carved out for them.

In hearing Urvashi’s story, I was captivated by the Resourcefulness, Undeterred nature, Non-Conformity, Belief in her personal vision and the Experimental approach that her career journey told. Urvashi perfectly captures the Maverick leader spirit and yes, you might have guessed it – these are the five traits of what it means to be a Maverick Leader.

What differentiates Maverick leaders from others is not only that they ‘see’ a world that can, and should be better, but they actually do something to make it happen.

Urvashi’s career has expanded into education activism, the establishment of Study Hall Foundation and awarded her international public speaking platforms, such as the World Economic Forum, to share her insights on global education reform.

So how do you become a Maverick leader?

Being a Maverick leader starts (at any age!) with a recognization and acknowledgment that things need to change. Maverick leaders have a capacity to see the bigger picture, they recognize where a change in the ‘system’ could bring about a greater collective good. They are driven by a personal belief that not only propels them to take action but also motivates them when they encounter resistance or obstacles.

Urvashi highlights the value of purposeful belief in creating an undeterred Maverick mindset: 

“When you believe that you are engaged in something important and you believe that what you’re doing is really going to make a difference, you’re moving heaven and earth to do it. You will give anything, anything, anything to make that difference. I think that it’s not a job and it’s not a career for its own sake. No…it is a cause…and it’s much larger than you, which is why I think you forget who you are.”

Maverick leaders exist in every profession and every industry. It is a display of the kind of creative, undeterred, hands-on type of leadership that this world needs if we are serious about leading differently in the future. If we are to truly challenge any status quo, be it in our teams, organization or society, we must adopt a different approach. We must build our capacity for a Maverick mindset.

When I asked Urvashi what it takes to be a Maverick leader and she shared some tips. Regardless of your age, where you work, what industry you in, what country you live in and what point you are at in your personal career story, this message is for you.

“Give yourself permission to be confident. Don’t overthink things. Act from the ‘inside’. Know what propels you. Care deeply about what you are doing. Say something – say it often, say it to everyone…I think I’ve learned that I have something important to say and I’m going to say it to whoever will listen”.

Maverick leaders do not act alone. They take others with them. To be a Maverick leader is to follow the words of the late Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, “Fight for the things you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you”.

I believe that there is an inner Maverick in everyone, some of us have perhaps just forgotten how to reconnect with it. Developing a Maverick mindset is a toolkit for anyone who wants to develop others and do good for people and planet in the process. It will challenge and (hopefully) energize you to ask yourself:

  • Am I a Maverick leader?
  • How would I rate myself on the 5 Maverick leader traits?
  • Does my work promote or diminish my personal values?
  • What really matters to me?
  • How could I be more enterprising?
  • Where am I afraid to fail (and why)?
  • When last did I stand up for something I believe in?
  • Have I lost my Maverick mindset somewhere along my career path? Why?
  • And perhaps more importantly, how do I get it back!?

Maverick leadership is in all of us. In a world as disruptive as the one we currently find ourselves in, we need more Maverick leaders.

About the author

Tamryn Batcheller-Adams is a psychologist and leadership development consultant who has worked with leaders in over 20 countries. She is the co-author of Mavericks: How Bold Leadership Changes the World, published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99.

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