The Rebel Leader

In _Home, Leadership Practice by Shaun Hall0 Comments

My assumption is that everyone is aware that a new Star Wars movie is coming out this week. If you’re not…I am somewhat speechless, but either way ill briefly explain (don’t worry, no spoilers).

The movie appears to take place in the early stages of the rebellion (A precursor to Episode 4). In many of the trailers, you see the construction of the Deathstar and the new protagonist saying “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.”

The trailer gets me amped up every time I watch it, but it does get me thinking about what it is to rebel. I mean, this person is going against an established order, yet I and others like me, automatically assume she is the hero of the story. But is that how rebels are always treated? In the stories…probably, but in the real world, it’s less likely.

Rebels don’t typically get the hero label because, in the real world, it’s in the form of someone initiating a change at the community or office level. It’s someone with the attitude of “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” And even though they might have achieved their outcome, the act may not be recognized as a hero’s action.

So how can we increase our chance of success with this philosophy? When it comes to business, there is a practice known as rebel leadership. It’s a role that many people have tried to pull off, but much like other leadership styles, it’s an art that requires study and courage. If you don’t know what you are doing, you might not be a leader for long.

In my career, I have both followed and played the role of the rebel leader. I’m writing this to share my perspective on the style. It is a style that is not always necessary, but when it is, it can be extremely difficult to navigate. I hope to give you some guidelines and expectations from my experience that have helped me and those around me be successful in this role.

Guidelines

  • Being a rebel should not be your default option. Ever. This option should only be considered a last resort as it will be disruptive to your organization. Make sure you are 100 percent sure this is something you want to take on.
  • Being a rebel is not an attitude, it’s a movement. Rebel leaders walk a fine line when leading a rebellion, and attitude is usually the differentiator. Remember, if you are just complaining, you are not leading. Rebel actions attract followers; rebel attitudes deter them.
  • Don’t be forceful. The second word in rebel leader is “leader.” Make sure you are leading others. down the path you want them to go. Find what it would take for others to be your followers and capitalize on that.
  • Rebel leaders only sacrifice themselves. Any choice that is made in a rebellion can have serious consequences, and that should be at the forefront of a leader’s mind. Never force the risk you wish to take on others. A true leader accepts all responsibility for things that go wrong and passes acknowledgment for things that go right.
  • Don’t be reckless. Just as you don’t sacrifice others, you also need to be sure you are putting the company first. You want to maintain the strength of your professional relationship and pick your battles wisely. I recommend studying and practicing “Crucial Conversations” before you start the effort. There is no point in taking steps forward in an area if it’s at the expense of taking steps backward in either company standings or relationships.

Lessons Learned

  • Being a rebel is hard. It will be stressful, and you will more than likely engage in a lot of conflicts. Stay patient because the longer you keep forward motion, the more followers you will attract. And if you don’t attract enough followers, it might be time to pivot away from your initiative.
  • Be prepared for a negative perception. Challenging the status quo is never popular. If you are the face of the change, you will also be unpopular. Depending on the size of the change or the number of changes you have made, this perception could stay with you for some time.
  • Important: Understand that you are possibly slowing down your career progression. If you choose to rebel against higher-ups, regardless of the outcome, you are challenging an authority of some kind. With that comes the real possibility of damaging relationships with those responsible for recommending your promotions/raises along the way. This is something to be mindful of.

Wrap Up

After reading the lessons learned, it probably seems that I have painted a grim picture. My goal isn’t to deter anyone from doing what they think is in the best interest of their company. My goal is to prepare those for realistic outcomes of your choices. I don’t want anyone’s rebellion to turn into a regret.

Most rebellions are really small in nature. It might be changing an out of date process, or recommending a new software. If these are your initiatives, understand you have chosen something that is meant to be hard. You have replaced your path of least resistance, with a path of resistance. But don’t let that scare you. Great things are built upon movements and rebels can be the best change agents to an organization, whether it is ever recognized or not.

So, if you have a cause worth rebelling over, I hope this message helps achieve your desired outcome. If you have any thoughts/stories you would like to share, please leave them in the comments below. Keep making others around you successful, and may the force be with you. Watch the trailer below to get excited about the rebellion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frdj1zb9sMY

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