The one with rogues and mavericks

Early in September I was fortunate enough to take part in the DriveThruHR blog radio show. The show is hosted by William Tincup (or at least was the day I took part) and fortunately they’ve had some website issues so the show I took part in is no longer available to listen to (breathes out).

The show is fairly free form and the only pointer you are given in advance is to think about the “one thing you are most thinking about most”. I talked about developing leaders in a global business as it was the thing I was thinking most about at the time. Right at the end of the show, William asked me a question about rogues and mavericks and to be honest I wish he’d asked it much earlier as the conversation started to get really good….

Ever since that day i’ve been wanting to write a post about rogues and mavericks but it wouldn’t quite come together in my head and then I saw a video clip last week amongst the tributes to Steve Jobs and, well, you’ll see!

If you look at dictionary definitions for rogue they are:



1. An unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable person; a scoundrel or rascal.

2. One who is playfully mischievous; a scamp.

3. A wandering beggar; a vagrant.

4. A vicious and solitary animal, especially an elephant that has separated itself from its herd.

5. An organism, especially a plant, that shows an undesirable variation from a standard.


1. Vicious and solitary. Used of an animal, especially an elephant.

2. Large, destructive, and anomalous or unpredictable: a rogue wave; a rogue tornado.

3. Operating outside normal or desirable controls: “How could a single rogue trader bring down an otherwise profitable and well-regarded institution?”(Saul Hansell).

And whilst I believe in an organisational context the 3rd adjective point is most relevant (operating outside normal controls) I do kind of like the 1st noun point (scoundrel or rascal). Having asked a few people what comes to mind when you say the word rogue the responses are usually Nick Leeson, Jérôme Kerviel (who lost £4bn of Societe Generale’s money) or more recently Kweku Adoboli who is involved in an investigation around the loss of $2bn of UBS’s money.

If you attempt a similar exercise for maverick the definition is:



1. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Agriculture) (in US and Canadian cattle-raising regions) an unbranded animal, esp a stray calf


a.  a person of independent or unorthodox views

b.  (as modifiera maverick politician

Having completed a similar exercise in asking a few people what comes to mind, the wags came up with both Tom Cruise in Top Gun and Mel Gibson as the eponymous Bret Maverick (James Garner for the purists!) but the serious answers started to come back and included people like James Dyson, Richard Branson, Bill Gates (v1.0 not the establishment figure he became!) and one that made me smile was Boris Johnson.

The difficulty I have is in defining the difference between the two. When does a person of independent views or unorthodox views (a maverick) become a rogue? There is a trait described in several psychometric instruments around rule conformance and the output at one end of the trait is something along the lines of “will break rules to achieve results”.  But is everyone who breaks a rule a rogue? Are some rules OK to break? Is it OK to bend rules as long as you get the right outcome?

I don’t have the answer and would be interested in view points but the only thoughts I have to stoke the debate is that there is something in there about intent (is the intent self interest or the greater good?) and a response that came out regularly in my Masters research – breaking process rules is very different to breaking policy rules.

Oh and thing that gave me a moment of clarity was this…

So are the mavericks just the crazy ones?



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4 responses to “The one with rogues and mavericks

  1. Great blog – it made me smile as our thoughts have clearly been heading in similar directions. I suspect that the difference between a rogue and a maverick is integrity, but I’m not sure how good we are at measuring it.

  2. I’ve noticed that many organisations, particularly larger well established ones, have unwritten rules. In fact the people who work in these places often prevent themselves from doing good things because they believe their behaviour will be against the rules. Rules which don’t exist are definitely made to be broken. When I encourage folk to proceed until apprehended I’m not actually advocating armed robbery, but too often people don’t do good stuff because the rules have leached into other parts of the organisation and calcified it. If something creates value for customers, employees and other relevant groups, try and find ways to make it happen, even if you have to ‘walk on the grass’ to do so.

  3. I think the term ‘maverick’ originated from a rancher whose surname was Maverick who refused to follow the rules which stated that all cattle had to be branded so that any strays could be returned to their owners. His argument was that any cattle found that weren’t branded were his.

  4. Pingback: The one for those who manage mavericks | Masters or Bust

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