When my child tells me she’s bored, I respond with, “You’re one of the most creative people I know. Go figure it out.”
Before I know it, she’s turned an Amazon box into a house, complete with working doors and windows. She’s sewn curtains to hang at said windows. And she’s made furniture for her and her stuffies to sit on.
Or she’s worked magic with construction paper, toilet paper tubes, and hot glue. One day, she and her friend decided they wanted to go beyond the lemonade stand and they made stuffies out of paper—and filled them with recyclables because we had run out of actual stuffing. I was so impressed, I kept a couple of them aside for mementos.
Look, I’m her mom. I’m supposed to think she walks on water. But you should see these creations. She’s only nine and she has more creativity in her pinky than I do on my best day of writing. And people buy her creations! I”m sure part of it is because they’re cute little girls selling something other than lemonade, but I also imagine there are A&A creations displayed on fridges throughout the city of Chicago.
When interviewed about her highly successful children, Sara Blakely’s (the founder of Spanx) mom said she let her kids be bored so they could figure it out on their own.
As it turns out, being bored, breaking the rules, and being a rebel, in general, are what make for highly successful people. And, in a world where kids are overly scheduled and pushed to the brink, we could be harming the next generation by not letting them simply be bored.
It will be a world devoid of any creativity, any sense of downtime, and certainly not any rebels. We need all of that to have the best kinds of leaders.
Rebel Leaders Allow Themselves to Be Bored
In her book, Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life, Francesca Gino argues that business leaders should strive for and encourage rebellion in their workplaces. And she makes the case that rebellion would make life more fulfilling for all of us.
We’re not talking rebels in terms of Pablo Escobar or Al Capone. The rebels that use their brains for good are those who break rules to explore new ideas and create positive change. They are the people who are doing good in the world.
When I was young and naive (and in my 20s), I would look at people my age now and think, “How did they get stuck?” Fast forward a decade or two and now I completely understand. It’s very easy for us all to fall back into routines and mindlessly follow them, day after day. It’s also been important to have routines after the past couple of years. But when you think about rebel leadership, the guiding principle is that you break away from your routine and the things you’ve always done to find inspiration.
In other words, let yourself be bored.
Rebel Leaders Don’t Conform
We just finished watching the latest season of Iron Chef. Our favorite episode, of course, was the one with Chicago chef, Curtis Duffy. I won’t ruin the episode for you if you haven’t seen it, but I will tell you this: he made—I don’t even know what you would call them—bowls? Servings plates? Cool black hand-looking things? Whatever you call them, it was what he served his desserts on.
He had an ice bath and he dumped charcoal-infused beeswax into it. And then used his hands to mold them into something that could hold tiny desserts. They were beautiful and unusual and unique. I am obsessed with them.
Don’t be surprised if they show up on my Instagram page because I’ve done the same thing. Who would have thought to infuse beeswax and then throw it into an ice bath? Insane!
How can you pay attention to what’s around you to inspire you in ways like that? For business leaders, this could mean introducing employees to things that aren’t obviously related to the organization. For employees, it could mean strolling through the annual art fair to see what questions arise or watching creative shows such as Iron Chef or reading something you wouldn’t typically read.
Rebel leaders don’t conform. They don’t get comfortable. They always question tradition. Chef Duffy decided he didn’t want to serve his desserts on a real plate—so he didn’t.
Rebel Leaders Are Unabashedly Themselves
One of the best compliments I’ve ever received is from a direct report who told me recently, “I love that you are unabashedly you. If a male client interrupts you or mansplains or talks down to you, you get a smirk on your face, a twinkle in your eye, and you take him down without his realizing that’s what you’ve done. I love to watch it happen!”
She’s a bit starry-eyed because there are plenty of times I don’t do that or I gain massive imposter syndrome, but I do mostly try to be me—all of my strengths and weaknesses combined.
Rebel leaders focus on their strengths, are honest about their weaknesses, and make an effort to reflect on both. A rebel leader never hides who they are or pretend to be something they’re not.
Think about that from your own perspective. Have you ever tried to be someone you’re not? How far ahead in life did it get you? I’m willing to bet not far.
We all do this really bad thing where we compare ourselves to our neighbors, our friends, and our colleagues—or we just want to mimic the successful people in our lives. The fact of the matter is that if we try to be someone else, we will never be successful.
Rebel leaders understand that and are unabashedly themselves. Get that glimmer in your eye. Put a smirk on your face. And be every ounce of you.
Rebel Leaders Say, “Yes, and…”
The other thing rebel leaders do is take a cue from improv and say, “Yes, and…” It’s not an easy thing to do at the start. You have to remind yourself to say “yes, and…” instead of “But…” Think about the difference it makes in a conversation when you agree with what the other person is saying (yes, and…) versus disagreeing (but…).
This creates a collaborative environment and a culture where people feel comfortable speaking up in meetings, giving feedback, and participating in brainstorms.
And the last thing I’ll leave you with that rebel leaders do is they learn things…and then unlearn them.
I know most of you have had an experience where you’ve questioned something and the response has been, “That’s the way it’s always been done.”
Groan. Eye roll.
Rebel leaders don’t accept that. Just like Chef Duffy didn’t accept that his desserts needed to be served on a plate, you can question the norm.
You certainly need to be an expert in your trade and understand the importance of mastering the fundamentals, and you need to have a deep understanding of your job before you can break, transform, and create, but don’t let yourself become a slave to the rules.
What Kind of Rebel Leader Are You?
Francesca Gino, the author of Rebel Talent, who I mentioned at the start, has a quiz you can take to discover what kind of rebel leader you are.
Find out what kind of rebel leader you are—and go forth and prosper!