In my series on people who are making a difference, I interview Judith Germain, editor of The Maverick Paradox Magazine, host of the Maverick Paradox Podcast, and author of The Maverick Paradox: The Secret Power Behind Successful Leaders. Judith is teaching every leader to harness what she calls ‘maverick thinking’ (independent, performance-oriented, breaking rules if they need to be broken) to make the difference you want to make in the world. If you want to listen to a wonderful interview between Judith and me, I highly recommend watching this five-minute video too https://youtu.be/nt7uVKnP60c
Thank you so much for your time! I know you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what early experiences brought you to your specific career path?
In my first real job I worked for a Socialised Maverick and he told me one day that he would never promote me. I was horrified and incredulous. I retorted ‘I’m the best employee you have, why not’. His response was ‘I know, but you upset people and I have to deal with the consequences of that’, my response? ‘But I’m really popular and they get over it!’
You see, I was 17 and a maverick who believed in brutal honesty because that was how I expected to be treated. I didn’t mean any harm, I thought I was being helpful! Mavericks are often misunderstood, they believe that everyone wants to be treated in the same way that they prefer to be treated. Mavericks prefer that people get to the point as soon as possible!
Having been told that my method of interacting was less than ideal, from someone I respected, I took a long hard look at myself. I knew that I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but I also knew that I didn’t want to conform. I felt, at the time, that if I wasn’t being totally, unrelentingly honest, I was conforming to a social contract of politeness, which was in of itself dishonest. And I knew that I didn’t want to lie.
So, what should I do? The first thing I did was reflect on who I was, what I wanted to become and how I could still stay true to myself without compromising my principles and values.
I then studied how people interacted with others (which included, for example, transactional analysis, body language, team dynamics, and how to influence others). It was only until I understood the underlying principles of leadership did I choose to study leadership as a complete subject.
In short, I started to learn how to impact and influence people with empathy and love. My interest in leadership started from there.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you in your career or education?
No! I spent a lot of my career in HR and I just can’t share those stories! Just kidding! I can’t share many of my stories, because so much of them have been confidential, even when I’ve not been working in HR. I can share however the fact that when I was in my very early twenties my career took a surprising turn.
I had been working for a large Insurance company as a Commercial Underwriter, when the company decided to centralise many of its regional offices and change the way that it conducted its business.
I bumped into one of the senior managers in the new location who asked me if I felt that the new way of working was successful. I stated that I didn’t believe it was.
He asked me whether I thought I could fix it, and when I said yes he challenged me to do so!
Being the maverick, I gathered a small team around me and successfully fixed the problem. That chance encounter changed the direction of my career. I was soon seconded to Head Office where I worked in many roles of senior responsibilities that took me away from underwriting. From there, I eventually left the company to work in HR and then for myself.
What’s interesting about this story is that many years later I met up with the same senior manager and was able to tell him what a difference he had made in my career and was able to support him when he decided to leave corporate life and set up his own business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting out on your career? What lesson did you learn from that?
The mistake I always remember is not funny at all. I learnt that my words had power. I was in my late teens and I was in a position of influence although without formal authority. Someone asked me if they were good at their job. I didn’t think so. So I said they weren’t. I then went into detail as to why I thought they needed to improve. I wasn’t being mean, just being honest – there wasn’t any spite in it.
However, I could’ve used more tact and empathy. Seeing her face as my words sunk, still haunts me. I felt terrible. I still do.
I learnt two things, not everyone appreciates the level of honesty I do, and my words have more power than I realised. I was 17 and they were around 30. I didn’t expect to hurt them.
What are some of the most interesting and exciting community projects are you working on now?
- I’m working with an exciting youth charity that is helping young people to grow and develop into leaders. I’m helping the founders to realise their dreams for this growing charity
- I’m helping a community of Change Makers to learn how to make a difference in the lives of others
- Pre COVID I was helping parents of Autistic children understand their diagnosis and find ways to communicate, support and develop their children. I also provided support and advice on how to address their child’s educational needs.
What are 5 things you would tell your younger self?
- Carry on being who you are – in the years ahead people will want to learn how to be more maverick, more wilfully independent. There’s nothing wrong in not wanting to conform.
- Take heart, you are not alone, there are more Mavericks out there than you can believe.
- Keep learning and stay curious – you are on the right track
- Don’t get so upset about being misunderstood. It’s a great way to learn about yourself, others and how to communicate better. You will figure it out and eventually write a book about it.
- Everything you experience, enables you to grow
You are a successful person. Can you share some tips on how young people today can get ahead?
My tips on how young people today can get ahead are:
- Know yourself. Take the time to discover who you are and what you believe in.
- Be clear on your values and principles, that way no one will be able to persuade you to do something that’s not good for you.
- Be responsible for your own learning. Life is about continuous learning, and growing from those experiences.
- Maintain a curious attitude. When you are curious life can take you to new places. Being curious is one of the foundational blocks for Maverick Leaders.
- Do not be afraid to say no and be careful with your yes.
- Stand in integrity at all times – people will follow you anywhere if they trust you
- Seek feedback so that you can grow
- Be competent and develop a track record of success
- It’s never to early to start intentionally building a personal brand
- Have fun with everything you do
They say the new influencer is a #Givefluencer — how are you paying it forward with others in your life?
I believe that everyone has a responsibility to role model change. We should lead our lives intentionally. I therefore help as many people as I can by providing a supportive ear and free resources.
I’m always happy to help others and have a policy of providing Pro Bono or discounted services where applicable.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
There are two books that really stand out for me. The first is ‘Maverick!’ by Ricardo Semler. This book really introduced me to the concept of being a maverick. Semler’s book tells the story of 21 year old Ricardo, how he took over his father’s company and changed everything about how it was run. He was radically transparent, everyone had to wear a badge with their salary on it, for example, the employees were able to make company decisions and redesign the products that they sold.
Semler got rid of the traditional hierarchy and in a space of 10 years when Brazil’s economy was failing, Semler’s company grew by 600%. That’s impressive!
The book ‘Maverick!’ Demonstrated to me that I wasn’t alone in thinking radically and that it was possible to design a company so that it worked better via Maverick principles. Following reading the book, I decided that I would start my own company to enable Maverick Leadership whether that was as a business owner, or working within someone else’s business.
The other book is Stephen R Covey’s ‘Speed of Trust’. For me it was already obvious that leaders needed to be trusted to be effective. I loved the way that Covey broke down the need for trust and the consequences of not being trusted, in a way that everyone can understand. The idea of a ‘Trust Tax’ is ingenious.
At the time that I was talking about trusted leadership (2008), no one truly believed just how much trust was important in the corporate world. Covey’s book helped reset the balance and improve awareness in this important concept.
Because of the role you play in the community, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire “good news” what would be your headline and 3 talking points?
My good news headline would be:
Everyone can be a Maverick Leader, exceed expectations and work for the greater good.
- How to improve your impact and influence to make a difference to yourself, your career and the world around you
- Why it’s ok to be a Maverick
- How Maverick Leaders strategise, innovate and execute with integrity, empathy and passion.
How can people connect with you?