Leaders inspire people to do amazing things; the types of things that their followers would not do on their own. With leadership, a vision and competitive advantage becomes reality. The more change an organization is facing, the greater the need for leaders. The more flexible a firm must be to survive in its environment, the greater the need for leaders. Given that today’s environment is characterized by frequent change, leadership is more important than ever before.
Unconventional leaders go a step further. They lead their companies to repeatedly create things that people love, but no one expected, especially their competition. Unconventional leaders are fanatical about the products and services they provide rather than profit, yet they tend to lead the most profitable firms in their industries. They create organizations built on innovation, flexibility and risktaking which redefine their industries and sometimes the way people live. Through their companies, they often lead other firms in terms of technology, customer service, etc. Unconventional leaders beat the competition on a regular basis.
Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are prime examples of unconventional leaders. They do not look like typical business leaders and their leadership style is anything but conventional. In fact, their backgrounds are both contrary to what most people would expect of such successful corporate leaders. They both dropped out of college and have no formal management training. Despite this, or maybe because of this, they have unconventional leadership styles that have led to the creation of unconventional firms. In fact, the people with the most education and experience are often the most conventional thinkers.
Unconventional leaders are unconventional thinkers, but what does that mean exactly? Unconventional thinkers stand out compared to most people. Their ideas are an amalgamation of ideas from a wide range of areas. They often use bits and pieces of very simple concepts in unique combinations to create new solutions to new or old problems. Their unique thinking is often reflected in their eclectic mix of interests and people with whom they form relationships. They like information and ideas, and often focus on things that most people overlook. Unconventional people like to think about things and understand them fully. To illustrate further, below is a comparison of conventional and unconventional thinkers.
- Like safety, avoid risk
- Say things like, “this is just the way we do things” and “everyone does it this way”
- Accept things as they are presently
- Will avoid expressing their ideas unless agreement is likely
- Follow trends, there is safety in numbers
- Are less willing to think, rather continue doing things the same way
- Agreement is very important, as is consistency
- Have a negative perception of differences; these are weird, strange, odd, etc.
- Do not question why things are the way they are, do not think of a better way
- Value established knowledge
- In the quest for improvements or even perfection
- Think and act differently from most people
- Re-evaluate everything, including their beliefs & assumptions, and change them if necessary
- Integrate disparate ideas and knowledge into new ideas and solutions
- Are not restricted by other people, do not care what they think or do
- Like change, see it as an opportunity for improvement
- Willing to try new things & learn from them whether or not they work out
- Believe that constructive conflict is good, leads to more ideas and a better understanding of issues
- Openly express what is on their mind
- Value thinking and creating new knowledge
Although it might not be an easy change, conventional thinkers can become more unconventional in their thinking. Everyone is born an unconventional thinker. Just observe very young children and you can see the amazing creativity and free thinking they have. Unfortunately, as kids get older, they are taught to think like everyone else in their family, at school, etc. They learn to become conventional thinkers. However, if this can be learned, it can be unlearned. You might not become as unconventional and innovative as Steve Jobs, but you can become far more unconventional in your thinking. Therefore you can become a more unconventional leader and below are some ideas that you can use to start on that path.
BECOME A MORE UNCONVENTIONAL THINKER
- Force yourself to try new things: music, food, activities, travel, etc.
- Question everything you do and believe, stop doing things to fit in or just because everyone else does it
- Get used to people not agreeing with you. Always tell people what you think, even if they might not like it
- Debate with people who disagree with you in order to understand their point of view. Accept their ideas even if they are different
- Talk to people who are totally different from you and learn from them: younger, older, retired, foreigners, different professions, etc.
- Try new ideas even if you are not 100% sure they will work
- When new ideas don’t work out, view this as part of the learning required to try new things, the cost of creativity, not as a failure or mistake
- Don’t take yourself too seriously, use humor to make fun of yourself when things don’t work out
Doing the above activities is easier if they are done with other people, so look for groups that you can join or create to help you become more unconventional. While changing is not easy, becoming an unconventional leader has the potential to help you create significant competitive advantage based on innovation, flexibility and risk-taking.