Enjoy this guest blog from friend and client, Amanda Reilly!
What Can We Learn from Rebel Leaders?
By Amanda F. Reilly, MS, MBA
Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino’s Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life is an inspiring read for change agents in any industry. One significant paradox of professional life today is the contradictory status of the rebel – the employee who challenges the status quo. Today, most managers are tasked with shaking things up and asking their employees to do the same. This maxim has become part of workplace nomenclature, but “shaking things up” means different things to different people. How can we be different and creative yet still uphold the corporate values of our organizations? How can we implement improvements and make change stick? Many of us struggle to find the answers to these questions.
Although Gino started her research project as a way to understand the psychology of rule breaking in the workplace, it morphed into something more – a compendium of short stories and nuggets of wisdom about people who rebelled against norms, reframed problems, and crafted innovative solutions. As she points out, we often hold on to what we know, replicating and applying similar approaches for every problem. Gino explains that we “adhere to social norms – the unwritten rules about how to behave in a particular culture, society, or social group, ranging from a friendship to a work team to a nation” (Gino, p. 8). But that approach does not move one forward in business or in life. Instead, having the courage to break free from the confines of this thinking – and to be a bit rebellious – can help push us toward innovative solutions. As Gino remarks, “Rule breaking does not have to get us into trouble, if done correctly and in the right doses – in fact, it can help us get ahead” (p. xvi).
Rebels can literally be found everywhere. As an example, Gino uses Napoleon Bonaparte’s unconventional and empathetic leadership style, which engaged and motivated his troops to win battles. Captain Chesley Sullenberger – the hero pilot better known as “Sully” – had a commitment to lifelong learning that led him to fight the complacency of routine and to reframe every flight as an opportunity to learn “some new knowledge or insight he had not considered before” (p. 85). Sully also took great care to understand how mistakes happened; he “learned from cases where human judgment failed under pressure” and viewed “expertise . . . as a continuous process” (p. 89). And Chef Massimo Bottura, owner and chef of Osteria Francescana, who was recently featured on the 60 Minutes segment “The Pavarotti of Pasta” is a “humble rebel” in the food industry. Bottura, who values learning and experience over sticking to tradition, reflects that “when you think you know everything, you’ve stopped growing. . . . [K]eep your eyes open and ask questions. You should always keep the door open to the unexpected” (p. 222).
According to Gino’s research, you can easily practice cultivating the five core elements that are essential in a rebel leader, simply by adjusting your mind-set:
We all have the ability to enact change and be a positive, productive rebel. Learning from others who have led from the trenches, we can examine our own path to see how small wins slowly push the needle toward innovation, creative enrichment, and fulfillment in both our professional and personal lives.
Gino, Francesca. (2018). Rebel Talent: Why it pays to break the rules at work and in life. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
CBS. Chef Massimo Bottura: The Pavarotti of Pasta [Video file). (2018, December 30). Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/chef-massimo-bottura-the-pavarotti-of-pasta-60-minutes-interview/