Managing a Lone Ranger

Some employees don’t buy into teams, but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. You can turn these independent- minded staffers into valuable contributors by letting them produce results on their own terms.

Beyond their dislike of teams, lone rangers don’t open up to their co-workers. They hate meetings and resist meddlesome bosses. And they may seem arrogant or aloof when you ask about their progress.

Supervise these leave-me-alone employees by giving them their space. Here’s how:

Stop the uniformity. Ideally, it’s great to have a staff that collaborates and cooperates well. But some talented workers may prefer to retreat rather than huddle in groups and put their heads together.

Give them room to roam. If a technician likes to communicate by e-mail or operates more productively with the door closed for hours, accept that behavior as long as you get a stellar performance. Imposing a suffocating sameness on your entire staff can lead to group-think and drive away some potentially strong, irreplaceable workers.

Establish check-in points. Just because you manage lone rangers doesn’t mean you must give them carte blanche. Hold them accountable for fulfilling specific responsibilities. Explain periodically how you intend to monitor their performance, and make sure they understand and agree with the goals you’ve set.

With certain prickly or private personalities, it’s better to minimize your contact. But when you do interact, make every minute count. Skip the small talk and prioritize your remarks. Say, “As we discussed last month, we’re evaluating your project in three key areas. Let’s review the status of each.”

Cut the gossip. If most of your employees work well as a unit, they may gang up on the one or two individuals who keep to themselves. In fact, some bosses may encourage that us versus them behavior by making cracks about a standoffish lone ranger.

Avoid contributing to divisiveness within your ranks. While you need not defend an employee who keeps to himself, you should not speak negatively of him behind his back to other staffers.