Working with the Rare Breed in Your Organization

Silicon Valley tends to attract an interesting, often eclectic, workforce that likes to experiment with new ways of working and unusual office spaces. And many of these leaders pride themselves on being unique—a rare breed, if you will.

I recently read the book Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous and Different by Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger. Just a few pages in, I was hooked and knew I needed to share some thoughts about it here. It’s a fantastic read about leadership and an alternative roadmap for how to grow a business or movement outside of the traditional mold. Challenging our thinking around how a leader looks and acts in the process.

According to Bonnell and Hansberger, rare breeds are talented and gifted people, but they’re cut from a different cloth than buttoned-up C-suite executives traditionally are. And sometimes it’s because of their perceived talents and rare gifts that their behaviors, though sometimes unproductive, may be overlooked, justified and ultimately forgiven a little too quickly. As leaders, we are often afraid to correct non-productive behavior for fear of losing them our rare breed in the process.

Let me pause for a moment to clarify what I mean by “productive” vs. “non-productive” behavior. By non-productive I’m not referring to downtime, or the non-linear nature of the creative process or how people may get into flow at odd hours. I am talking about the impact our words and actions have on the people we work with and with whom we may share interdependencies.

Here’s the thing: You can be your biggest, baddest, rarest breed self—be authentic, different, creative, weird, dress how you like, do your best work between midnight and 4 a.m. and work well with others. It’s possible to be both and as leaders, it’s time to start expecting this of ourselves and others.

How to Encourage Non-Rare Behaviors

Rare breed employees don’t fit into a standard mold, and we miss out on so much greatness when we expect them (or any employees) to fit one. But we can, and should, expect behaviors that don’t intentionally offend others.

  • Expect them to follow basic organizational norms. Your organization has policies and guidelines, norms for how to behave that support your unique culture. Brilliant minds don’t get to ignore those norms simply because they think differently. Expectations should remain high, though they may benefit from some coaching around this.
  • Encourage them to lean on strengths. Creatives and other rare breeds tend to get tunnel vision when in the flow of their work, forgetting or ignoring other routine responsibilities. Facilitate this flow, but help them identify ways to maximize flow without negatively impacting others around them. Routinely skipping team meetings and missing project deadlines can drag down the team’s performance and morale. Work with your rare breed to develop systems to mitigate that.
  • Avoid passing them by for opportunities. It’s important that leaders don’t penalize rare breeds when they don’t look like, talk like, act like us. If what makes someone different isn’t controllable (race, gender, etc.), or their self-expression is authentic and not offensive, stay focused on helping them develop their talents and sponsor them to make a bigger difference in the organization.
  • Encourage leadership. Rare breeds can be fearless, standing up for movements that challenge cultural and organizational norms that no longer serve us well. They encourage us to think differently, in a way that only they can. Change is not the enemy; stagnation is. Invite those who are different to lead so they can help the organization to grow and innovate.

In the end, rare breeds can be part of the secret sauce that makes your organization wildly successful. But so are the other employees in your charge. Balancing the natural tension that exists when we simultaneously seek to establish or maintain norms and controls while we also encourage disruptive ideas and innovators is part of the job of leadership.

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Adopting the Right Mindset in Your Leadership

As a leader, you know you can’t control everything that happens to you or your team; there are too many variables that operate outside of your direct influence. What you can control, however, is how you react to the unexpected.

The 3T model, a framework I developed after working with hundreds of clients over the years, is a tool to help us analyze trade offs associated with doing nothing, taking action or changing your mindset about an individual, team or organizational challenge

With every challenge we encounter, there’s a choice to be made. For those who like to see themselves as contrarian it’s helpful to realize that even doing nothing is making a choice. And the area where leaders tend to get stuck the most is with people-related decisions, especially when the stakes are high.

The 3T model frames our decisions and actions (or the lack thereof) as living in one of three contexts: tolerating, transforming and transcending.

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How to Use Constraints to Successfully Drive Your Leadership

Most leaders look at constraints as things that hold them back. There’s not enough time, or the talent isn’t ready, or you recently lost a team member, or the budget just isn’t there.

It’s easy to view these challenges as excuses – the job can’t get done on time or to the expected level of quality. But in reality, constraints like these are opportunities to improve and do unexpected things.

Leaders and business owners often get comfortable with the way things have always been done. It takes someone five days to finish a report, and that works for us. Until something happens and it no longer does.

Constraints are an opportunity to get off our laurels and raise the bar on our own quality and output. And they’re a way to encourage team members to be more efficient and continue to grow.

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How to Get Quality Feedback from Others

As a leader, you’re used to giving feedback to team members. But the thought of asking for and receiving feedback from others creates anxiety and triggers–from you and the people you’re asking.

Without feedback, you can’t get better faster because your ability to figure things out, to determine what’s working and what’s not, is limited to your own. You need feedback so you can see things from a different perspective and leverage the experiences of others.

There are two big challenges to feedback: First, you need to ensure your team, stakeholders, colleagues, etc. feel comfortable giving you quality, constructive feedback that may not always be positive. And second, you need to have the right mindset to accept the information, process it and do something with it.

The two go hand-in-hand, every time.

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Intentional Strategic Planning for 2020

Often the fall season brings new goals as we prepare for the new year. It’s a great time to wrap up projects, reflect on where we’ve been and look forward to the future. I personally find fourth quarter to be energizing and full of ideas and planning.

But as we’re planning out new goals for ourselves and our organizations, it’s important to look at them in a more strategic, systematic way to ensure we’re truly moving forward toward our long-term vision.

Depending on your industry or the size of your organization, you will want to intentionally, strategically plan ahead for a year, three years, five years or even more. Considerations during that planning process include looking at what’s going on in the economy, what’s working well, what needs to be improved on and more.

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Emotion can make you a better leader

Many of us hear from other leaders, team members, even our families that we need to stop being so emotional, both at work and at home. The reality is that emotion is part of being human, so we can’t entirely avoid experiencing and expressing it.

We all experience emotion a bit differently. Some people’s feelings and expression of them are more intense while others are more moderate. And how strongly you emote depends on the situation, your past circumstances and even what else has happened to you so far that day.

Everyone is emotional, but everyone in their own way. Whatever your set point when it comes to leading and emotion, you benefit from building those skills so you can use it appropriately everywhere from the boardroom to the kitchen table.

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How to shift your mindsets as a leader

Your mindsets matter. They dictate how you work and react and how you think about things. They are the set of eyes and ears through which you perceive everything. And when you don’t know exactly how your mindsets are operating, which is the case for many leaders, it can impact your ability to be successful.

A mindful leader is more aware of his or her actions and is in tune with what’s going on internally. This is who leaders should aspire to be, regardless of the popularity of mindsets in their organization.

But how? You’re not born to be mindful; it’s a skill and a practice that you must work at. And if organizations don’t train you to be more mindful, how are you to learn the skills needed?

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How to be a leader in the digital age

Old school, good-ole-boys management is out; leading in the digital age is in. But for many leaders, from Baby Boomers who are aging out of the workforce to Generation Z who are just getting started, there’s confusion about what that means.

A lot of coaches recommend executives develop their leadership brand by posting regularly to social media, writing articles consistently and talking often to the media. That’s often not the most realistic nor effective strategy for many C-Suite executives and those aspiring to climb the corporate ladder.

What this unique group of thought leaders and industry influencers needs is actionable advice that will help them grow in their organization (and possibly beyond it) and become better leaders overall.

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What is a mindful leader?

There’s so much talk about mindfulness and personal growth that it often feels like there’s too much talk–but not about what that mindfulness actually looks like and how to be more mindful at work.

Leaders aren’t necessarily CEOs or department heads. They’re anyone who can influence others to achieve a result not solely for the purpose of satisfying your own interests. Leaders help others to see the value in themselves, they help others to grow and they spark and grow ideas that leads to change–in organizations and industries.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to approach your role mindfully, with the self-awareness to know what’s going on within yourself internally. Being a mindful leader isn’t a set of experiences and CV-fillers you can check off; it’s a process and disciplined awareness that’s grown and developed through practice and intentional focus.

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What is your responsibility as a leader?

Leadership is so much more than telling your team the vision of your organization or tasking them with completing the work that moves you in the right direction. But that hasn’t always been the case.

Not so long ago, the formal construct of leader was a title that meant authority. It was simply making decisions and telling people what to do. Or that’s what many thought.

The bar wasn’t set as high as it is now and there wasn’t as much pressure for people to feel truly fulfilled in their work. You went to work and you did the work. Thankfully, the thinking around leadership has evolved. Now we know different, better. We know that doing work you love matters and feeling fulfilled gives you more reason to work harder to reach that goal.

Because of this, leadership today is more about serving others than getting them to do what you want.

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