7 Things You Should Not Do With A Lone Wolf Employee

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on September 20, 2017

There are two types of employees: those who thrive in a team environment, and those who would rather work alone. Though these two groups can work together cohesively when they need to, they typically accomplish much more when allowed to do things their own way.

In most business environments, the independent-minded person who works better alone has good reason for doing so. Usually, those reasons relate to his or her personality type—the 'lone wolf' is typically introverted, self-motivated, and is extremely focused on completing her own tasks. Using the four-letter typology developed by Isabel Briggs Myers, there's a strong chance that your lone wolf employee will test as an INTJ, INTP, ISTJ or ISTP, although other types may also have difficulty working in teams.

Managing a lone wolf employee can be incredibly frustrating; the entire team's performance may suffer when one person refuses to chip in. It's tempting to assume that, in order to manage a lone wolf correctly, you should encourage them to think more about the team. That's probably the wrong approach. Here are seven things you should not do with a coworker who isn't a team player, and some approaches you might try instead. 

#1: You Shouldn't Assume It's a Bad Thing

To the credit of lone wolves, research suggests that employees who do not work well on teams often devote greater energy to their work tasks than team players, since they are not wasting energy on interpersonal interactions with others on the team. These employees tend to be highly productive when left alone to prosper on the job. They contribute to their organizations through high levels of task completion, self-confidence and drive.

It's human nature to assume that someone who separates themselves from the group is a slacker or is less motivated towards the team's goals. But perhaps the person is a major production center or someone who accepts complete accountability for their (quality) decisions. Don't jump to conclusions that being a lone wolf is a bad thing.

#2: You Shouldn't Pass Them Over For Opportunities

When a management team meets to discuss a new business opportunity, the conversation might go something like this:

Vice president: "So, we have a new campaign coming up for Acme Corporation. I don't have the details yet, but it's going to involve crunching some pretty complex data. Who should head up this project?"

First manager: "I'd recommend Ashley. She knocked it out of the park with that last Power Point presentation and really wowed the client."

Second manager: "How about Christopher? I know he's a bit of a loner, but he is seriously good at crunching the numbers and has a track record for clearing up messy data. He can definitely do this."

Vice president: "I like Christopher, but this is a high-profile project. The client's going to want regular meetings, and I'd feel more comfortable if it were handled by someone who's open to collaboration. Let's go with Ashley."

This conversation is fictional, but it shows how lone wolves are really viewed by upper management and miss out on crucial opportunities. Not only did the VP decline Christopher the opportunity, she also gave the message that important projects do not go to lone wolf employees—and this decision was made before the project details were known.

Just because the lone wolf prefers working alone, does not mean that he or she is unable to lead others and collaborate with clients. Beware the ever-growing emphasis placed on teamwork. Don't confuse work preferences with work capabilities.

#3: You Shouldn't Micromanage

Lone wolves are independent spirits who get the best results when they are left to their own devices. Smothering these employees by constantly looking over their shoulder and intervening in their day-to-day activities is the worst thing you can do. It signals that you don't trust the employee despite their advanced understanding of the task and record for achieving project goals.

Check in periodically and do ask questions if you're really not sure what the lone wolf is doing. Otherwise, give them the space to do the work. You should find that they do it rather well.

#4: You Shouldn't Force Them to Collaborate

Collaboration is everywhere these days and the truth is, it is often overdone. Your lone wolf employees will not be persuaded if the goal of collaboration is collaboration itself. Task-oriented individuals may grow resentful if they are forced to go to meetings, attend task forces, and make decisions by committee, when the collaboration offers no real value.

Managers need to scrutinize their projects and say no to wasteful collaboration. Be picky and disciplined to prune unnecessary teamwork, and collaborate only when collaboration will give a return on investment. When a lone wolf employee sees a compelling benefit, they are usually much more willing to get behind the team.

#5: You Shouldn't Forget About Everybody Else

Even if your lone wolf employee is knocking her work out of the park, there's a risk that the group's performance will suffer unless all the team members—including the loners—are pulling in the same direction. For this reason, it's a good idea to focus on the larger team picture when deciding how to manage your lone wolf employee. How does everyone feel about the lone wolf's autonomous behavior? Does it compromise group effectiveness? Would performance be impacted if you scheduled fewer all-hands meetings or isolated other team members from the lone wolf's weak spots?

Start with a 360 degree appraisal to gain insight into the wider team perspective. Group members can agree to implement strategies that will help lone wolves become more confident about working with others—or they may think the lone wolf is an asset just the way they are.

#6: You Shouldn't Fail to Nurture Constructive Group Skills

In any business setting, getting along with others is a minimum job requirement. Lone wolves do not have to like group work, but they must develop skills they can use in situations when collaboration is unavoidable.

As a leader, it's your job to provide support for developing the necessary people skills: offer training, assign a mentor, arrange coaching, or change the incentive systems so it rewards group as well as individual performance. Above all, show appreciation for the loner who is out of his or her comfort zone. Your appreciation will encourage more sharing and reduce the barriers to collaboration.

#7: You Shouldn't Gloss Over Serious Issues

Sometimes, it is acceptable to blame someone for the negative consequences of their lone wolf behavior. Managers can—and must—draw a line between unacceptable, policy-breaking behavior and the behavior you'd naturally get when an independent-minded employee is given the freedom and the flexibility to do things their own way.

Recently, Starbucks hit national headlines when an employee typed "Diabetes here I come" on a customer's drink label. Starbucks was quick to point out that the company did not condone such behavior, and quickly issued a statement that spoke to a culture of collective responsibility:

"We strive to provide an inclusive and positive experience for our customers, and we're disappointed to learn of this incident  We are working directly with the customer to apologize for his experience, and with our partners (employees) to ensure this does not happen again."

If the lone wolf shows no inclination to co-operate with the company's code of conduct, you may not have any other choice but to follow disciplinary procedures and fire them.

Principles to Remember

To help loners thrive, leaders must manage them differently. First, get out of the mindset that lone wolves are a bad thing. Make sure they are given the same opportunities as your team players, and avoid micromanaging since this strategy is sure to backfire. Take the pulse of the team. If you need to bring a loner into the fold, provide assistance for them to do that. Part of being a good leader is to recognize the environment that's going to let each person give their best efforts, and then take action in order to create harmony amongst all the individuals within the team.

Molly Owens

Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. She began working with personality assessments in 2006, and in 2012 founded Truity with the goal of making robust, scientifically validated assessments more accessible and user-friendly.

Molly is an ENTP and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and exploring with her husband and son.

More from this author...
About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Jara (not verified) says...

Thank you for this article! Most of my conflicts have been with people who are "lone wolves". With a lot of prayer to Jesus, patience, and forced collaboration (I've literally been forced to live with 2 INTJs), we are learning to appreciate each other's differences so that the team can reach its goals.

Bonnadee (not verified) says...

Very excellent article and advice! Unforunately, the employer is not sensitive to my 'lone wolf' needs.  

James Weston (not verified) says...

At my work the 'lone wolf' is the star performer.

He doesnt interact much with the other staff but runs rings around them and management. People love to bag him but hes the best person the company has, highly intelligent but just doesnt want to get involved with others at the company.

I'd rather keep him and sack management - ironic, he probably knows the business better than them.

He gets paid well and thye offered him a promotion to management but he declined. He told me he doesnt think much of managment or our Board. I thought that was pretty funny, the guy thinks they are all tw**s (and i'd have to agree with him).

LaTisha Jackson (not verified) says...

Thank you so much for this! I am an INTP and I'm a barista at the aformentioned company. I am the lone wolf employee, I'm older than most of the other employees and work circles around them and yet held back from any upward advancement. I am told that I am not friendly and genuine enough for higher positions, which are usually given to the more extroverted types. 

Lobo Solo (not verified) says...

I am an INTP (The Logician )through and through and one of the things I find in this day and age is that the only people who will keep trying to force a square peg through a round hole are managers who not only cannot do my job, they can't even do their own.

You want me to work with a group of people who either cannot or will not do their job?  Please.  Give me their work, fire them, and pay me 4 times what I am making now and I will get it all done, on time, correctly, legally, quickly and make you the manager look like a million dollars.

Yeah, I got a 'tude that is nothing short of breathtaking but that doesn't change the fact that I can and do this every single day and always come out on top.

Stop acting so shocked that nobody else is getting their jobs and tasks done correctly or on time.  We have all been here long enough to know exactly who can, who cannot, who will and who will not do their jobs.  I dont know what the greater shame is, that you the manager know this as well and do nothing about it or that you are afraid to do something about it.


I would like to thank everyone for putting up with a little scene from the Exorcist there.  Venting.  It is a wonderful thing;)


David5150 (not verified) says...

It has to do with socializing nothing to do with skills. the attitude now is can I hang out with you do I like you. I want to party with you. That's it nothing more. That's why most companies internally are a complete mess. I'm just glad I'm close to retirement and I can leave this disgraceful workplace that we have now. 

Team leader (not verified) says...

Curious with lone wolf input here because we have a development team including the lone wolf that needs collaboration to figure out solutions to problems. How can we get insight from that person?

adamfriedman says...

It's a good article. Thanks.

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