5 Ways To Bring Out The Best In Workplace Rebels

How can you sniff out a rebel in your workplace?

They are the ones who:

  • Go against the norm, challenge the status quo, rarely go with the flow.
  • Can be seen as troublemakers.
  • Ask – “Why should we…? “Why do we have to…?” Or say – “That’s a stupid rule….”
  • Wonder out loud about idealistic possibilities (sometimes at the wrong juncture).
  • Are disruptive, difficult, and downright exasperating (but also brilliant and a performer in equal measures).
  • Are often at the centre of outside-the-box, creative ideas and innovation.
  • Are usually early adopters and ahead-of-the-curve thinkers. (They’ll be one of the first ones to be talking podcasts and Snapchat when the rest of the office is Facebooking it).
  • Channel an entrepreneurial vibe.
  • Usually elicit in their peers either extreme frustration or awe-inspired wonderment (sometimes simultaneously). People are usually saying something like, “can you believe what X just did?!” And secretly thinking, “why didn’t I say/do that?!”
  • Have less concern for authority and hierarchy than most (which can be a blessing and a curse).

Richard Branson, Sophia Amoruso (founder of  Nasty Gal) and Steve Jobs are just a few famous rebels and unconventional thinkers.

Read this for more sauce on the subject.

If you manage one of these creatures, first of all, my sympathies. These people are not easy to lead!

AND…if you recognise, understand and appreciate the gifts they bring, rebels can be an immensely valuable asset.

[Tweet “If you recognise the gifts they bring, rebels can be an immensely valuable asset.”]

Here are 5 ways to bring out the best in workplace rebels:

1. Make an effort to consciously recognise rebels in your organisation. Start to see their value (this blog and the list above should help for starters). If you’ve read my post that went viral – Weird is Good: Why dissonance fosters innovation – you’ll know what gems lie in the ‘not so ordinary’. Appreciating ‘different-ness’ and actively seeking to find what strengths lie in divergent thinking is a solid first step.

2. Accept that, like a finely tuned Ferrari, they might be hard to handle, temperamental and impetuous, but if you focus on their strengths it can result in a wilder (and more progressive) ride than your Toyota Previa. Specifically, you could spend more time with them understanding their perspective – get under the hood, get behind the wheel with these rebels. Ask them: where do you see the opportunity in this situation? If this was your organisation, what would you do? What’s the idea that would get you fired? (Then peel it back a tad). Get exquisitely familiar with what they are passionate about and see where you can put that to good use.

3. Coach them on how to channel their passionate, troublemaker ways in a politically savvy and non-aggressive manner. Help them to learn how to be a “good troublemaker” #oxymoronoftheday.

4. Give them a voice. Identify situations and opportunities where their unconventional attitude might be just the ticket. The cash cow that’s about to dive into dog territory? The project that is floundering? The business unit needing a rocket up its proverbial? Let your rebel take a look (with clear boundaries of course).

5. Get clear (then get them clear) on the difference between skillful challenging and just being a negative pain in the butt. Focus their development on behaviourally acceptable ways to challenge. This post gives you some tips for starters on how to challenge effectively.

Sidebar: the rebel to keep is one who still delivers in their role. The rebel to kick to the curb is the one whose performance in their role is consistently sub-par. Unconventional thinking is not an excuse for non-performance.

If nothing else, when you strike a rebel in your team, don’t immediately dismiss them as a problem child that needs to be ‘managed out’. Try to understand them and the gifts they can bring to your organisation.

As Steve Jobs once said…

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” 

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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