BRING ON THE REBELS…
I once worked with a woman who didn’t have a stop button when it came to shaking things up at work. In meetings she’d continually question the bosses on their policies, she’d suggest ways of changing age-old processes, she’d campaign for regular performance reviews and hiked up bonuses. Even more daring - the week before Christmas she’d come in wearing a Santa hat, keeping it stuck on her head all day long, even in exec appointments. Make of that what you will.
Many of our colleagues labelled her as difficult, even rebellious, but I admired her chutzpah. She was bold, a game changer and curious about people. And that meant she made a difference. Surely we need rebels at work (and in life) to rock the boat, to instigate change and, ultimately, encourage progress?
Francesca Gino, a behavioural scientist, and the youngest woman (she’s 40) to have achieved the rank of full professor at Harvard Business School, believes these kind of workers are essential. Her new book, Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules In Work And Life discusses the five core elements of rebellious behaviour and why they are positive attributes. In her Ted Talk of the same name, she says that while most of us conform and shy away from struggle, ‘rebels embrace conflict and so allow for perspective and diversity’. And when we don’t get stuck in, we get stuck in a rut. We become passengers rather than activators, and generally, that does not make us happy as human beings. Gino recommends a three-point action when it comes to the rule book: break, transform, create.
But becoming what Gino calls, ‘an agent of positive change’ takes a level of courage. And it’s a fine line to tread when you stick your neck out and dare to be different. You can’t just do things differently for the sake of it. And no one is going to react well to contrary behaviour if it is negative and aggressive. So without quashing all those mavericks out there, let’s just say, there is a constructive way to rebel. Like, it’s good to be passionate, not angry. Pinpoint problems but don’t point your finger. Listen, don’t tell. Empathise rather than make allegations. It might be corny, but there’s truth in the old adage: ‘It’s not what you say but how you say it.’ Emotionally intelligent rebels understand that it’s not about being a complete pain to work alongside, it’s about utilising your talents to positively disrupt the environment.
Elon Musk, CEO at Tesla, reportedly advises his employees to walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it becomes obvious you’re no longer adding value. That’s a bold move – and not all bosses would condone it – but it’s a significant side step away from convention.
In our work at Untapped, we inspire our clients to take the lead when it comes to challenging the norm. One of our Accelerators – Maisy – recalls a client who responded particularly well to her encouragement of rebellious behaviour. “He was struggling with a bullying boss,” she says, “and had retreated into himself. I urged him to think about the most rebellious thing he could do. It was pretty out there, so we pared it back, modified it and talked about how he could still challenge his boss but in an effective and constructive way. But just by considering the concept of being a rebel – someone who had the courage to ask questions, disagree and push their own ideas – helped him to embrace the uncomfortable and find the confidence to set boundaries and even say no to things he felt were holding him back.”
“You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and the confidence will follow.” Carrie Fisher
The do-if-you-dare knock on effect of being a rebel is almost inevitable - when you feel more in control of a situation, you will be even more inclined to take risks. Unfortunately, there can be negative connotations associated with the word ‘risk’, especially in business. It suggests danger, exposure, damage… but if you step away from this pigeonhole, the concept of taking a risk is about having an open mind: deciding there is more than one way of dealing with a situation, thinking outside of the obvious to bring innovation and change, and letting your guard down to invite others to challenge you. What’s more, authentic rebels cannot fulfil their potential without embracing their vulnerability, because if they are going to open themselves up to scrutiny, there needs to be the willingness to be real. And there lies the essence of a rebel’s success – with honesty they earn the trust and commitment of those around them, building crucial connections and inspiring others to emulate their example.
Kendal Parmar, co-founder of Untapped says, “I once coached a female exec in a leading bank. She called me The Agitator. She said I was always encouraging her to stir things up and question the norm. I was proud of that title. It meant I’d pushed her to think outside of the obvious and experiment. I recently heard that she’d been made a CEO and had built a strong team of innovators around her.”
And so… “Bring on the rebels,” sings actress, Emma Stone in the movie La La Land. Her distinctive (and now infamous) audition scene is homage to those who dare to be different. “Who knows where it will lead us…?” she wonders. Somewhere incredible, I suspect.