How to Manage a “Lone Ranger”

By Susan Battley

A while back, a client mentioned her ongoing frustration with a member of her group. “How can I turn a lone ranger into a team player?” she asked me.

We launched into a detailed exploration of case specifics after which she took away several next-step options.

Despite both the realities and “management-speak” about teams and teamwork, “Lone Rangers” will always be with us …and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

Here are some general points to consider in managing “Lone Rangers” effectively.

First, Lone Rangers come in various manifestations. Three common types you’re likely to encounter are:

The SUPERSTAR or rainmaker: a great producer or exceptionally talented performer who sees no benefit in interacting with the rest of the work group or division.

The TECHNOCRAT or “geek”: a person who finds great satisfaction in completing technical tasks and problem-solving, but has little personal interest in interacting with others.

The “IMPOSTER”: a person who worries – correctly or not – that he or she is underperforming or may not be the right person for the job, and stays at the periphery as an avoidant strategy.

Five Tips for Managing a Lone Ranger

# 1 Selection is critical.
You should know if the person you’re hiring is a Lone Ranger before you make an offer. This allows you to determine how much of an “outlier” he or she will likely be in the work group. Too often, what is presented as a retention issue with Lone Rangers was really a selection issue.

Action Tip
Probe a candidate’s team experience and orientation with specific interview questions. Consider using some scientifically robust behavioral assessments as part of the selection process.

# 2 Clarify what “team player” means functionally.
Organizations and businesses have different concepts and requirements for teamwork. Some so-called teams are really work groups, not cross-functional teams. Does “teamwork” mean attending meetings, or does it mean quick seamless cooperation, as between the Sales and Technical Service Departments?

Action Tip
If a star system is part of your organization’s culture and value system, it may be necessary to remind all staff from time to time of the bottom-line benefits that Lone Rangers bring to the enterprise.

# 3 Discuss the situation one-on-one.
Don’t assume that your Lone Ranger realizes that he or she is behaving in a certain way, or realizes the impact of that behavior on the group, team or department.

Action Tip
Arrange an informal private meeting to review job expectations and requirements. Take a collaborative problem-solving approach as a first step. Get the Lone Ranger’s perspective. Agree on a follow-up date to review the situation. Don’t wait until the annual performance review to bring these issues up.

# 4 Make sure your Lone Ranger is not just very shy or uncertain of his or her communication skills.
See #3 above.

Action Tip
These are issues that can often be improved with an appropriate skill development plan.

# 5 Put Lone Rangers in charge of something.
Find out what they’re passionate about, and use this information to draw them into the fold. This is a low-key, highly effective way to engage people.

Action Tip
Ask Lone Rangers to mentor someone, represent the company at a fundraiser, give an in-house workshop, etc.

Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Susan Battley

An advisor to Fortune 100 executives and world-class institutions for more than twenty years, Dr. Susan Battley is an internationally recognized expert on CEO and leadership effectiveness. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional service firms, and elite research institutions. She has worked with chief executives, university presidents, Nobel laureates, and prominent scientists, diplomats, and educators. A respected media source for analyzing leadership in the context of news-breaking events and key trends, Battley has been featured in outlets worldwide including CNN, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chief Executive, Business Week, United Press International, Harvard Management Update, Entrepreneur, Science, Leader to Leader, Investments, and Worth. She is the founder and CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, a leadership strategy and organization effectiveness consultancy.