Are You a Corporate Rebel?

One of my new favorite sites is www.rebelsatwork.com/. Started by Lois Kelly and retired deputy director of intelligence for the CIA, Carmen Medina, the site is meant to give corporate rebels a platform to share their stories and ideas and help more corporations and big organizations succeed because of (not in spite of) their rebels.

What’s a corporate rebel you ask? According to the Rebels at Work site –

You hear about innovators in start-ups all the time. Rebelliousness and restlessness are accepted qualities of entrepreneurs. But what about people on the inside of big organizations? How do they blaze new trails and find ways to change business as usual. What are their characteristics? What makes them tick? How do you find them? Could they be an untapped resource for creating more innovative, engaged corporate cultures?

Good rebels also tend to be outstanding employees

This idea of a “corporate rebel” has always resonated with me because I’ve always been known as the squeaky wheel, the guy who was never satisfied with doing something because that’s the way we’ve always done it or because the boss said so and the guy who was never satisfied with doing what everyone else was. I’ve annoyed many a manager by acting almost like a three year-old at work, constantly asking why? Why not? And why can’t we do that? So when I saw Carmen and Lois’ site, I recognized that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t crazy for trying to challenging and trying to change long-held assumptions and policies in corporate America. So when they reached out to me on Twitter to share my story being a corporate rebel, I jumped at the chance. One of the questions I answered for my rebel story was, “what advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?” I said:

“The biggest piece of advice I wish someone had shared with me is to be yourself and be yourself all the time. Don’t listen to the people who tell you that you have to talk a certain way or dress a certain way to advance your career. Don’t try to be someone you’re not just because you don’t see anyone like you in the levels above you. Understand the unique skills, experience, and characteristics that YOU bring to the table that other people don’t have. Don’t assume that just because you’re a junior level employee that you’re at the bottom of the ladder and you have to go up. Look at it like you’re filling a different role, an important role in the organization. You bring strengths to the table that senior leaders don’t – you’re not jaded or cynical, you’re still full of ambition, you’re more likely to take risks, you’re better connected to the rest of the staff, etc. Understand and properly value your strengths.”

You can read my full rebel story here, but I would encourage anyone who works in a big government agency or a big company and finds themselves frustrated by the bureaucracy and the inertia of the status quo to bookmark the site and visit it often for inspiration and encouragement. Making change happen in a big organization when you don’t have a “Vice President” or “Director” after your name is incredibly difficult. It requires rebels who know how to be disruptive without being insulting, who can offer solutions in addition to identifying problems, who can energize others others to follow, not hold other people back, and who are almost optimistic to a fault.

If you’re the type of person who asks why? why not? how come? what if? or can we?; if you’re the type of person who just can’t accept “because that’s the policy” as a reason for doing something; if you’ve ever found yourself emailing suggested changes to a corporate policy to your boss solely because you wanted to, you may be a corporate rebel. And guess what? Not only is that ok, you’re probably one of your organization’s best employees. In fact, most corporate rebels also share many of these nine traits of outstanding employees, so if you feel like your rebelliousness is being punished instead of rewarded, I wouldn’t worry – I suspect the job market for an outstanding employee is pretty good :) .

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Profile Photo Dorothy Ramienski Amatucci

Thanks for such an informative post! I like the chart you included, as well, because I think a lot of people initially hear the word “rebel” and go straight to the negative. I honestly believe there are effective ways of introducing new ways of thinking in an organization without ruffling feathers — but I know that it can be difficult for some, especially if you are approaching someone with tons more experience. Framing the conversation in terms of what’s good for the organization, rather than simply focusing on what’s good for your career, can go a long way, IMHO.

Profile Photo Candace Riddle

Thank you for this refreshing story that reminds me to keep being a good rebel. The red tape can beat even the best good rebel into a bad rebel. I needed the reminder to behave myself. 🙂

Profile Photo CHarris

Thanks Steve for posting this- I love it!

I think I first knew I was a corporate rebel when my primary school sent me to be tested for a learning disorder and the child psychologist determined there was nothing wrong with me, I just thought differently.

Profile Photo Steve Radick

Wow – I’m glad to see a post like this draw such a positive reaction! I’d love to hear from some of the bosses of “good rebels” to see if their view of us good rebels is the same as ours! I really enjoy the Rebels at Work site so I hope all you do as well.

Profile Photo Bill Brantley

Love the site! I might also suggest that one way to handle the stress of being a rebel is to be active in other ways. For myself, I have my teaching and my participation in various professional groups to help keep me sane and energized while dealing with the stress of being a corporate rebel. It’s also vital to have those networking connections for the moments when you decide you just need to move on. Bringing back insights from your professional networks and your own studies may make you rebellious but it also makes you a valuable asset to your organization.

Profile Photo Patrick Fiorenza

This is a great post, definitely going to start reading the site..

I love this quote: “Don’t assume that just because you’re a junior level employee that you’re at the bottom of the ladder and you have to go up. Look at it like you’re filling a different role, an important role in the organization. You bring strengths to the table that senior leaders don’t – you’re not jaded or cynical, you’re still full of ambition, you’re more likely to take risks, you’re better connected to the rest of the staff, etc. Understand and properly value your strengths.”

Lots of great lessons in the post. Thanks for sharing!

Profile Photo Chris Allison

Fantastic post! I’ve been running into a lot more folks like this lately and it’s been a fantastic boon to both productivity and idea generation. I’m running now to check out the site. Cheers!

Profile Photo Dannielle Blumenthal

All good stuff but the question I have is do you need to be a rebel no matter what or are you just committed to the mission and want to be more productive? Some people have an issue with this… e.g. What would you do if everyone suddenly started agreeing with you? Enjoy it or cut and run somewhere more dysfunctional?

Profile Photo Steve Radick

@Danielle – I think it’s all about being committed to the mission and to making the org better. Being a rebel just for the sake of being rebellious doesn’t do anyone any good. I think it always has to come from a place of love, passion, and dedication to improving the organization.