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Executive Leadership: Balancing Weird With Workable
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Executive Leadership: Balancing Weird With Workable - Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Balancing Weird With Workable

Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Balancing Weird With Workable

It’s been pretty clear for the past fifteen years that in certain fields, weird is wonderful. Whether it’s the iconic public quietude of Steve Jobs or the give-yourself-a-job-title mandate at high-profile tech startups, weird is the new black. If it’s old-style leadership, it’s stilted and stifling.

There’s something to be said for celebrating weirdness. Weirdness is the opposite of sameness, and sameness never got anyone ahead of anything. Yet new is better until it proves to be worse, and this is when the I-told-you-so choruses burst forth from choirs of the stoic. As much as we’d like to say we value weirdness, and as much as we like to think comfort leads to complacency, when put to the test, weirdness is often met—behind its back, most of the time—with suspicion and trepidation.

Nobody wants a brain surgeon with wacky new ideas about removing something that shouldn’t be there. And with people’s livelihoods on the line, the further down the org chart they are, the less confident they often feel when the people at the top show up to work in Coachella t-shirts and bare feet. It might not be brain surgery, but the stakes can feel pretty close.

The weird executive can be intimidating in a whole slew of ways the old dictatorial boss never was. At least with that guy, you knew what to expect. Show up on time, do your job, don’t stick your neck out, and you’ll be fine. The new leadership usually resists predictability, and many of your rank-and-file aren’t equipped to deal with unpredictability. Additionally, no matter how beloved you may be, there will always be whispers behind cubicle walls questioning whether you’re brilliant or off your rocker.

In a blog post that went viral a couple of years ago, writer Suzi McAlpine asserted that “dissonance and discord may be less pleasant to experience and more difficult to manage than harmony and consonance, but they are far more likely to provide fertile ground for breakthroughs.” Few people today would argue against this, but what is the experience like for the accountant or researcher when the source of dissonance and discord is the person whose name is on the building?

There are a few approaches for managing potential unease. One is simply to hire people who can handle it, and to let those who feel uncomfortable find new opportunities elsewhere. While this is effective, it also means losing good people, and it works against another value of healthy workspaces: diversity. If everyone in the office is an appreciator of against-convention behavior, you’re missing the benefits more traditional thinkers can bring. If you have good people, it’s far better to learn to work with them as they learn to work with you. Cutting them loose is a step toward homogeneity, the least weird thing in the world.

Another option is to get a Number Two who projects stability, someone who understands and values your weirdness while sympathizing with the people who have to work beneath it. It’s a tough role, to be the steadying influence on a fun-but-choppy sea, and not just anyone can do it. You need someone who can interpret your intentions when it never occurs to you that someone might need to. You need someone whom you trust to override your directives when one of your weird ideas makes someone’s job impossible, a person who knows how to act on what you mean and not necessarily what you say, because super-creative people like you are often oblivious to potential collateral damage—worrying about consequences is not a creative person’s strength. And you need someone sure enough in him- or herself to tell you when you’re going too far.

Perhaps on a less practical level, the value of demonstrating a large amount of self-awareness cannot be overstated. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, being aware of how your weirdness is experienced by others, and exposing your vulnerabilities as you deal with your challenges shows everyone that you’re as much a work-in-progress as they are, that you’re all in this together, and that you have as much to learn from the guy in the cubicle near the bathroom as he has to learn from the woman in the corner office on the top floor.

Weird is wonderful, but for many in your organization, weird is also worrisome. Take control of both ends of the reception line, and foster an environment that responds positively to its weird leadership.

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Executive Leadership: Balancing Weird With Workable - Executive Leadership Articles

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