When being wilful is a good thing … I had an interesting discussion the other day around the terminology that I use to describe mavericks. It centred on the word ‘wilful’. Wilful means different things to different people. For some it can mean defiance, for others mischievous. I was reminded of the importance of context and not assuming that everyone has the same context that I have.

For me, mavericks are more than wilful, they are wilfully independent. This means something very specific in terms of attitude and behaviour. Some of the context sits within my book, The Maverick Paradox: The Secret Power Behind Successful Leaders. In there I say this:

This definition (wilfully independent) always makes me smile because in my imagination the maverick is standing there, looking angelic, with a smirk on his face and more than a hint of devilment in his behaviour.

You never quite know what he is going to do, you do know however that it’s going to be interesting!

That is not all, I go on to say in the book:

By having wilful intention as a key maverick attribute, you can be assured that the maverick will be focused on solving and implementing the correct solution to the problem, in the most efficient way. To understand the term wilful intention as it relates to the maverick context, we will need to first look at the dictionary definition of the individual words wilful and intention.


Wilful suggests a stubborn persistence in doing what one wishes, especially in opposition to those wishes or commands that ought to be respected or obeyed (dictionary.com) Intention is something that you mean to do. Therefore, someone who is determined to do something regardless of what other people think or wish has a wilful intention.


Coupled with the execution and outcome driven maverick attribute, the maverick’s wilful intention attribute, ensures that he will complete the task that he sets out to achieve. To get an insight into how this might look like, consider Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of the Terminator in the 1984 and 1991 Terminator films. In those two films the Terminator was relentless in his intention to complete his task, refusing to stop until it led to his ultimate destruction and/or salvation.


This is analogous with how mavericks with wilful intention approaches a task. The maverick will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. The consequence of this relentless pursuit of their wilful intention could be successful completion, or loss of reputation or perhaps over time, the maverick’s job, or key client. The outcome will depend on whether the maverick is Socialised or Extreme.

However, the art of ‘wilfulness’ can mean something entirely different when considering its implementation by Conformists. Annabel Kaye advises that Conformists ‘can be wilful in their childish desire to cling to certainty even when all the evidence indicates disaster will follow’. This is something that I hadn’t consciously considered before, but it certainly worth pondering on now.

Mavericks can get extremely frustrated when it appears that Conformists are acting in the way that Annabel describes. For mavericks when they are being wilful, they are generally standing up for what they believe in. Socialised Mavericks will have analysed the data that was available, considered the options and have chosen to take a calculated risk. The only thing that would deter them from their proposed action is new data that changes their knowledge. The data is more important than their ego, so they can make objective decisions and change direction when necessary.

By contrast Conformists can know that their proposed action may lead to inappropriate or not desired outcomes and still cling to them. This could be a childish desire to keep their self-esteem, self-identity, and reputation in tact – despite all indications that they are following the wrong path.

Because, how something looks to other people, is important to them, Conformists are less likely to change their mind once they have made a decision. Especially if it would mean that they ‘might lose face’, in front of people that are important to them.  Socialised Mavericks care less about how they are perceived, so do not have that distraction. They are comfortable with their history of success, so they understand that one setback will not affect their reputation too negatively.

So, my pondering leads me to this thought. Being wilful, for the sake of being stubborn or childish doesn’t help anyone. It is a tactic that Conformists often used as a defence mechanism. A way of reducing cognitive dissonance and remaining (falsely) strong and decisive in other’s eyes. An excellent way to keep (falsely) control, strengthen your reputation and maintain your self-esteem.

Mavericks have a wilful intention, which is used to get things done, where they have an honest belief in the need for the thing to be completed. When they are being wilful, there are not protecting their ego or self-esteem.

Perhaps this is the essential difference between Conformists and Mavericks?

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