Embracing the Nonconformists in Your Organization

By EMP Staff

“She is so weird.”

“He is such a rabble-rouser.”

“I wish she would just keep her mouth shut and quit trying to change everything.”

“Why does he have to challenge every single thing I say?”

These are just a few of the kinds of comments people make about the so-called “rebels” in organizations. Even though nonconformists can be brilliant and driven, they often are ignored or ostracized because they can be so difficult.

What to do?

Look at them through a new lens.

My grandmother used to tell me to look at people “through God’s eyes” whenever I was having a longstanding conflict with a friend or colleague. In other words, she was coaching me to look for the good and try to be more accepting. This mindset is especially critical in leading nonconformists. Recognizing their talents and steering them in a positive direction goes a long way in how they’re perceived by others and what they can ultimately accomplish. If employees see an attitude of encouragement and acceptance from leaders, they’ll be more inclined to try new things and take some risks themselves. Pushing boundaries and breaking a few rules to achieve goals won’t seem so out of the norm if it is the norm.

Tell them what needs to be done, not how.

I enjoy flying Southwest Airlines because they give employees a lot of leeway in how they do their jobs. For example, flight attendants are allowed to deliver the legally required safety announcement in their own style and with humor. It’s casual and fun…and one reason Southwest is a top industry performer.

Give them appropriate resources.

Nonconformists may need more latitude in their work. Give them access to the best tools, and make sure they have a network of like-minded folks around them. For every genius idea they have, there might be 10 other kooky ones that need to be refined or discarded. Nonconformists need to reflect on when and how they engage in their best ideation, and organizations should try to be flexible to accommodate those unique preferences. Along those same lines, be sure to promote variety and novelty in their job assignments. Nothing kills creativity and motivation like boredom!

Let them identify their strengths.

This is where the EMP can be a real asset. People who score high in nonconformity often score high on many other scales as well. Having this benchmark helps employees to capitalize on their strengths and organizations to tailor jobs to a person’s strengths, ensuring employees land where they best fit. Also, forming teams based on information from EMP feedback reports can be invaluable.

In Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life, Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist and professor at Harvard Business School, argues that business leaders should strive for and encourage rebellion in their workplaces. “When I think of rebels, I think of people who break rules to explore new ideas and create positive change,” Gino tells Harvard’s Working Knowledge site. “These are people who are doing good in the world.”

Rebel Talent explains that rebels tend to share the same core five strengths even though they are individually unique: novelty, curiosity, perspective, diversity and authenticity. The book outlines “The Eight Principles of Rebel Leadership” and even includes a short quiz to help you learn which type of rebel, out of four possibilities, you tend to be.

So, in considering all of the above, we encourage you to celebrate your nonconformists and help them thrive!

Nonconformity is a scale on the Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile® (EMP). Learn more about the EMP scales here.