11 Trademarks of Rebellious Leadership

Here at Switch & Shift, we surveyed our brilliant League of Extraordinary Thinkers and asked them what rebellious leadership looks like to them. Here are their responses.


What does rebellious leadership look like to you? Rebellious Leadership is…


1. Unimpressive

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Believe it or not, Rebellious Leadership is often not noticeable, because leadership in this day and age is not about the impressiveness of the leader–it is about the power and capacity of the system. I see CEOs giving up their offices entirely to become more accessible to staff. I see CEOs intentionally take a back seat in meetings because they recognize that they don’t have the specific knowledge that is needed to solve the problem at hand. In fact, I’ve seen CEOs go to meetings where the new interns didn’t even know the CEO was in the room, because the emphasis is on the quality of the decision-making, rather than the status or title of the decision makers. We still need brilliant leaders who are willing and able to do the high-profile work when needed, but being able to do the work of leadership invisibly is just as important today. – Jamie Notter


2. In It For Others

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Rebels are those who challenge the status quo– who aren’t satisfied with doing things the “same ole’ way.  Example,  USA TODAY reported that  the average U.S. CEO is paid 373 times more than workers.  Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments in Seattle just slashed his $1 million salary to give lowest workers a huge raise. Concerned about income equality, Price is a great example of a rebellious leader.  My bias is that leadership comes from a place that troubles your heart.  Hence, the rebellious leader is troubled in her heart and believes she can make things better— not for self but for others.  – Eileen McDargh



3. Earning the Right of Leadership

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A rebellious leader intentionally chooses to earn the right of leadership. It means rebelling against any work practice that would negatively impact the wellbeing of employees or other stakeholders. It means intentionally challenging what sort of ‘character’ it takes to be an aspirational leader. It means intentionally creating a work environment built on trust (self-trust, trust in others and earning the trust of others). It means intentionally holding yourself accountable for modelling the behavior you expect of others. It means rebelling against non-evidence-based-but-easy-to-embrace ‘theories’ of leadership. Lastly, it requires the personal commitment to continual self-development, self-reflection, research and learning, and then the implementation and reviewing of evidence-based-interventions that help to create a thriving workplace (ethically achieving organizational success measures) where employees can flourish (experiencing work satisfaction and an overall sense of wellbeing). – David Penglase


4. Empowering People

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Rebellious Leadership is leading with the mindset that empowering employees to give their best is more important than managing them to a job requirement or duty. In doing so, an employee is given the freedom to creatively tackle problems using their best effort – not through a required process. This frees the leader to coach and steer, much like the captain of a ship looking to capture the most wind. – Aaron Bartlett




5. What We All Need

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The one person who asks the questions no one wants to discuss.

The one person who keeps asking those questions, no matter how uncomfortable it gets.
The one person who is willing to take personal hits for a cause. Again and again.
The one person sees what most do not.
The one person driven by passion to put a dent in the universe.
The one person we all need. – Bill Jensen



6. Always Honest, Not Always Popular

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Rebellious leadership means communicating honestly, even when the answer will not be popular. We are a world that has become obsessed with spin and message control, and the honest answer is frequently subordinate to the safe answer. Rebellious leadership means trusting your people with straight answers rather than carefully manicured answers. People stopped trusting leadership when leadership stopped trusting people… a cautionary tale indeed. – Dean Brenner




7. Innovating Change

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Real leaders are the ones who break with convention. They are the rebels. However, being a rebel in itself is not enough. To be a successful rebel leader one must look beyond just the act of rebellion and must be focused, determined, and aware of others’ reactions. The key is not to wear them down but to win them over through an approach that is empathetic and persistent, that makes the new look familiar and so makes it easy for people to deal with change. Great rebel leaders are innovators. In the long run they are recognized for great changes, even as they make the process of change feel familiar to those around them. The irony is, in many cases, that they innovate by making others feel as if nothing were changing at all. – Mark Lukens


8. Focused On The Team

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Rebellious Leadership says, I don’t care what you taught me in that class because that’s not how I contribute to my team’s mission. Rebellious Leadership leads the way the team needs for it to lead, at the moment. And when it isn’t needed, it shuts up and gets out of the way, because good leaders are also good followers. It’s genuine, not generic, giving each person on the team respect that aligns with the way he or she contributes. Rebellious Leadership is on a mission to change the world, to leave it better than it is now, so its main job is to inspire others to come along on the adventure. It feeds the troops, in spirit as well as other ways. It’s what inspirational founders do. – Dr. Janice Presser


9. Finding New Paths

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Rebellious leadership opts to find new paths instead of remaining comfortable on the well traveled paths. – Tim McDonald






10. Challenging the Status Quo

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A Rebel Leader embraces new ideas, new methods and always questions the assumptions which define their business model, actions and, more importantly, thoughts. Being a rebel is not about fighting the system, it is about challenging the status quo. A rebel leader does not tolerate ‘that’s how we have always done it’ thinking. A rebel leader always drives to be efficiently effective regardless of the actions and structures that must change to enable it. – Chris Stricklin




11. A Catalyst for Purposeful Change-Making

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Rebellious thought and action, derived from a very purposeful and passionate place, act as a catalyst for what drives innovation, growth, and change as we know it. I believe that it is absolutely critical to our survival in the future world of work to nurture those purposeful change-makers, those rebel leaders, and provide them with the means to challenge the rules we ourselves may have put in place years before. Each of us, regardless of title or status, has the extraordinary opportunity to help cultivate an environment that is conducive towards any leader questioning the status quo, whether they are rebellious by nature or not. – Mark Fernandes





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  • Say Keng Lee

    A truly nice piece of work! Yes, true leadership is fearless rebel with a selfless cause!

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