See new site for corporate rebels: Rebels atWork
This story starts on a November afternoon in the late 1960′s where I am after school writing “obedience to authority is essential to growth and development” 500 times in detention. Again. This time I’m here because I was creating a magazine with the lyrics to the Rolling Stone’s latest release during art class — instead of doing what the art teacher assigned us.
Flash forward five years to college orientation where I learn about the required courses and decide I shouldn’t have to take freshman English. I find the dean’s office at this large state college and talk my way out of the requirement and sign up for a wacky creative elective. (I later find a way to create a customized major.)
On my first job I question some HR practices and suggest another way to do things. The HR senior vice president can’t stand the sight of me, this 21 year-old “kid” who thinks she knows so much. My boss sees that I’m committing career suicide and recommends me for the corporation’s (AT&T) first training program for high-potential communications professionals and I move to New York City where all kinds of unexpected and wonderful opportunities unfold.
I never quite fit in or go mainstream in corporate jobs though I appear kind of corporate and mainstream. I’m forever asking “what if” and coming up with unusual approaches. This rebel wiring has often frustrated me; bosses and mentors would advise me to focus more, curb my passion, and stick with a more disciplined career path. Though my fingers still have calluses from writing “Obedience to authority…” I have never been able walk away from my curiosity. I love the path my career has taken, but there are no straight lines.
Up until recently I never thought much about being a rebel, a kind of creative outsider. But a few things happened this year.
At the second-to-last session of the BIF6 conference I hear Carmen Medina, a recently-retired CIA executive, talk about how she and a small group of other CIA people started nudging that closed and venerable organization into a new perspective. This informal band of people called themselves “The Rebel Alliance.”
An internal light bulb flashes so fast and intensely for me that I miss my exit driving home from the conference. Rebels. Why isn’t anyone helping to develop rebels so that they can do good for organizations? All organizations need people who are passionate about making things better. Why do so many organizations ostracize rebels?
I sit with these rebel questions for a while as I go on with my work.
My work is helping big companies and non-profits get unstuck and find new ways to achieve their goals. My approach is to bring together all kinds of people in a company to find new ways. Our workshops use an unstructured structure to get to “ahas.’ Agendas are never completely followed, and outcomes are always completely unexpected because of the creative brilliance that emerges from people thinking together in new ways.
During workshops I started noticing an interesting pattern. Many of the most insightful questions and ideas came from people who are considered outsiders – the rebels, outliers, mavericks and skeptics. Not necessarily the rising stars or the most senior executives, but the people slightly outside who feel compelled to bring up unusual views and question long-held assumptions. They seem to naturally see things differently.
What is it about rebels, I wonder again. What value do people with these characteristics bring to organizations? Why aren’t their voices heard more? Why do so many companies exile their rebels to corporate Siberia at the very same time they’re trying to make their companies more innovative?
During the winter and spring of 2011 I conducted a quantitative research study on rebels, or change agents as many prefer to be called. Here are the highlights.
(You can download this Foghound 20 Ways To Be Effective Rebel )
Free Your Rebel Thinkers
The rebel journey…Rebels at Work
My struggles as a benevolent rebel is one reason why I’m so intent now on helping rebels learn how to be more effective change agents inside big organizations. Similarly, my admiration for leaders who embrace and empower rebels is why I’m driven to help leaders be more effective and courageous. Some specifics:
- Rebels at Work.com community: Launched this new site share stories and advice from famous and not-so-famous corporate rebels and to provide resources and training materials for all those passionate, good rebels out there who want to make a difference.
- New ways to lead: I’m helping companies learn and create new ways for people to lead in organizations. Notice the wording here: lead in organizations vs. lead organizations. When companies create the conditions for people to have a say and contribute in meaningful ways, employees become active participants in leading change, creating powerful approaches. When you tap into your existing talent in new ways — rebels and all — superb ideas arise and you begin living employee engagement. (vs. making it some sort of “program”) Some of the techniques I’m using to help corporations create these new ways to lead: Appreciative Inquiry, Art of Hosting, World Cafe, Open Spaces, Immunity to Change, Courage to Lead. And my own hybrids.
- Provide coaching and mentoring to high-potential corporate rebels/mavericks/edgewalkers.
- Speaking: at leadership and HR conferences to help leaders understand why and how to tap into this invaluable internal resource, and by doing so activate more engaged and innovative corporate cultures.
- And…Who knows? Rebel thinking is to get started on a great idea even if the plan isn’t totally baked, knowing that iteration and flexibility are always necessary to achieve great things.
More about Rebels
- Author Eric Pennington interviews Lois: 5 questions about rebel thinkers
- Rebels at work: Lois is interviewed by Janet Swaysland, SVP of Monster on MonsterThinking blog
- Good vs. bad corporate rebels
- Steve Jobs: a rebel role model
- CIA’s Carmen Medina on rebels, optimism, leadership
- Rebel awarded Medal of Honor
- Extreme frustration = compliance or dissent