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Managing the 'Lone Wolf' Have an employee who's not a team player? It is possible to deal with loners in a way that makes everyone happy.

By Chris Penttila

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Serial entrepreneur Peyton Anderson faced a big employeechallenge a few years ago when he was at the helm of his firstventure, SciQuest. The problem started when one senior-levelemployee rejected the team approach Anderson, 38, favored. Hedidn't explain how he did things--but didn't mind tellingother employees how much smarter he was than them. He sat alone inhis office all day and stood in the corner at the company holidayparty. Other employees kept their distance.

Anderson agonized about fitting this talented but unapproachableemployee into the company. "He would come up with somethingonce in a while that was wicked smart," Anderson says."[But] he was not the kind of guy you'd want to have lunchwith."

Anderson decided to make the employee a "department ofone" who reported directly to him and worked exclusively onspecial projects. "We did it in the context of 'We wantyou to work on the important stuff--we don't want youdistracted with small personnel issues,'" he says."He liked that."

Anderson is just one entrepreneur who's managed a "loneranger," the employee whose personality is as soft as cactusbut whose skill makes him or her an asset to the company. Thequirks and aloofness of lone rangers can lead to a few showdowns."Not only does this person have a hard time communicating,[but they also] don't want to communicate," says LeannMischel, a management professor at Susquehanna University inSelinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

Helping Loners Thrive

Companies need to manage lone rangers differently. First, getout of the mind-set that they are a bad thing, and help themunderstand their roles on the team, says Stephen Fairley, presidentof Today's Leadership Coaching, a Chicago-based executivecoaching and leadership development firm. Hand them entireprojects, and avoid micromanaging, a strategy that's sure tobackfire. Figure out their strengths, and find someone in thecompany who can connect on some level with this nonpeople person,at least enough to keep projects moving. "Every Lone Rangerneeds a Tonto," Fairley says. "And delegatingweaknesses--the areas where [The Lone Ranger] isn't good--iswhat Tonto's for."

Anderson met with the company's lone ranger every other weekto hear his latest ideas. He also "played Tonto" byrunning interference between the lone ranger and the company'sother employees, working hard to smash stereotypes so othersweren't resentful of this employee. The key to keepingfrustrations low, Anderson says, is to let lone rangers use theirstrengths while isolating other employees from their weak spots."That's 100 percent the entrepreneur's job," saysAnderson, who is now CEO of Affinergy, a company in Research Triangle Park,North Carolina, which makes coatings for medical devices.

Creating a buffer zone helps with prickly people, Mischel says."Having someone who is able to communicate with them butisn't going to bother them is often a good idea," shesays.

First, make sure the employee really wants to be left alone. Thelone ranger may ache to be a team player but doesn't know how.A way to find this out is by asking the employee to take charge ofsomething he or she is passionate about, suggests Susan Battley,CEO and founder of Battley Performance Consulting, a performanceconsulting firm in Stony Brook, New York. This might meanorganizing a company event or giving a presentation to the team."You're able to bring the person into the fold more, andyou're also getting knowledge transfer," Battley says. Butif the lone ranger balks at the suggestion, don't push it.

Teamwork can mean different things-something entrepreneursshould think about before they hire, Battley says. Does teamworkmean having a team meeting once a week or having employees workclosely every day on projects? The answer will determine whetherlone rangers fit into the business model. "For some[companies], having a lone ranger wouldn't work," Battleysays. "It's a question of whether it's functional forthe business."

Tell applicants what kind of teamwork is expected on the jobwhen interviewing. Asking a few targeted questions--how much theylike working on teams, how they would describe their workstyles,even whether they prefer team sports over individual sports--canreveal whether applicants prefer working solo.

The goal with lone rangers is to create structure withinfreedom, balancing the space they want with the needs of the team."Try to siphon as much information as you can from them, butlet them work on their own, because that's the way they workbest," Mischel says. "And part of being a good manager isto recognize the environment that's going to let each persongive their best efforts."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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