Why You Should Value the Nonconformist


I’m not paying you to agree with me.  I’m paying you to think.

That’s Colin Powell’s approach to leadership.

When it’s time for planning and problem-solving, the best leaders aren’t looking for unity and agreement.

They want the opposite.

They want dialogue, a clash of ideas.  It’s not the time to get comfortable.  It’s the time to seek discomfort.

The friction of ideas and concepts rubbing against each other can produce a spark of creativity that you can’t get in a consensus environment.

If everyone is thinking alike, then someone is not thinking. - Patton Click To Tweet

When everyone focuses on agreeing and trying to please, you’ll soon find yourself on the Road to Abilene, a special kind of purgatory for specialists in groupthink.

It’s the place bad decisions come from.

As you war-game solutions with your team, you may even want to assign roles to people in the group – the customer, the marketer, the shipper, the factory line worker.  They should advocate forcefully for their side.

In Army exercises we often had a “Red Cell” who did their best to mess up our tactical plans.  They frustrated us at every turn.  But they also made us better.

Success as a leader means hearing from all these perspectives and coming up with a suitable plan that takes them into account.

If you hear only one perspective, you aren't leading, you're following. Click To Tweet

It’s harder, but also better.  It’s worth the effort.

To be clear, there are some things you need your team to be together on all the time.  Cornerstone values should be non-negotiable.

Things like integrity and mutual respect are elemental to building trust on the team.  That productive dialogue you are seeking will be difficult to achieve without it.

Once the decision is made, the team needs to adopt it as their own.

Like the spark in the combustion chamber, the end result has to be a powerful force pushing the piston in a single direction.

Before that, value the nonconformist; look for the friction.

If there isn’t any, make some of your own.

Lead on!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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