6 Traits of a Rebel Leader
In preparation to assume new duties this summer, this is the simply complex guidance I would most like to pass to my new organization. Be a rebel leader that drives revolutionary change, not evolutionary progress. As a senior military leader this may strike you as odd. In traditional thought, the military epitomizes structure and repetition in maintaining the status quo. But this can remain no more in today’s military than in your business. To remain successful, we must strive for positive improvement and a revolution of our processes to become efficiently effective in everything our organizations and we do.
As a military professional, my thoughts always begin with established doctrine. In this case, Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1, Leadership and Force Development, provides key guidance as the basis for fulfilling leadership responsibilities with three simple words: “make things better.” This statement is extremely simple in text, but complex in depth…simply complex. ‘Make things better’ encompasses the ultimate goal of any leader…improvement. In order to improve, you must step outside the status quo. For many years, the buzzwords were “think outside the box.” Well, that is not what we need to do…we need to think inside the box to make fundamental changes of our processes and methods.
The first step outside the status quo is to break the old definition of rebel leader. The order to “Be a Rebel” does not give you cart blanch to be disrespectful or neglect your duties but directly the opposite. A Rebel leader is any person who resists current controls and tradition. It is rebellion through heretical motivation, which is characterized by and departs from established beliefs and standards.
1. Demand Positive Change
Simple change is not necessarily positive. It is the reason phrases like ‘continuous improvement’ become both white-collar buzzwords and blue-collar jokes. For a change to be positive, it must decrease the time required, increase efficiency, improve structure or increase simplicity. That’s it, simply put. No belt colors, no change coaches, no consulting fees. Every desired or required improvement must meet at least one of these criteria. If it doesn’t, don’t do it.
2. The 5 Levels of Why
Question everything you and your organization does along with the process by which you do it. Question everything must be a condition of employment. And not once, but five times. The Five levels of Why allows you to determine the root cause of any situation. As Fighter Pilots, we use Root Cause Analysis to refine each and every action in our flights. This is how we strive for perfection and refine the impurities of our actions and reactions.
3. Challenge Your Followers
True leadership is not found in an individual, but the individuals developed. Your success as a leader is not merely based on the success of the organization under your guidance. Your success is based on the improvement of those who surround you. Be confident in yourself such that you can admit your followers can be better than you.
4. Eliminate Analysis Paralysis
A leader is continually asked to make decisions with incomplete and variable data sets. The choices many times are not right or wrong, but differing degrees of good enough with conflicting second and third order effects. This draws many leaders into analysis paralysis where a decision is delayed into nonexistence because of the continual search for a perfect solution. A dynamic leader knows their worth is determined by their ability to properly analyze situations and take deliberate, calculated risks to move the team forward. A courageous leader knows their worth is determined by their ability to properly analyze situations and take deliberate, calculated risks to move the team forward. Indecision is still a decision and it can deflate a team’s motivation and cease forward progress.
5. Intrinsically Motivate The Team
How do the employees talk about the organization? Do they choose pronouns such as ‘they’ and ‘their’ when talking about the company or do they reveal ownership and belonging through their use of phrases like ‘our company’ and ‘our vision’? Many leaders talk about developing teams and establishing clear goals, but few truly understand the complexities and intricacies of establishing the necessary culture of unity which best draws the engagement of every member of the team. If the organization has successfully developed a lexicon and made the corporate vision his or hers, then each and every team member will be intrinsically motivated. Ensure they work with you, not for you. This intrinsic motivation will take them, the team and the organization to levels of success previously thought unachievable. Intrinsic motivation creates self-efficacy. Effective leadership transforms human potential into effective performance in the present and prepares capable leaders for the future. (AFDD 1-1: Leadership and Force Development)
Ensure employees work with you, not for you
6. Avoid Excuses
Excuses are not beneficial to any relationship nor the success of an organization. When you fail to meet your goal or expectations, own up to the shortcoming/mistake then learn from the situation to ensure the behavior is not repeated. This is USAF Fighter pilots hone their skills and improve toward perfection. Debrief every effort, every meeting and set the example of taking responsibility for your actions both good and bad.
Be A Rebel Leader
Yesterday may have brought you to today, but most likely will not carry you through tomorrow. Embrace new ideas, new methods and always question the assumptions which define your business model, your actions and, more importantly, your thoughts. Being a rebel is not about fighting the system, it is about challenging the status quo. A rebel leader does not tolerate ‘that’s how we have always done it’ thinking. A rebel leader always drives to be efficiently effective regardless of the actions and structures that must change to enable it.
Be a rebel leader that drives revolutionary change, not evolutionary progress.