Tag Archives: Development

Are You Weird Enough? Three Ways to Stand Out

This article was originally published on lifehack.org.

On the infinite list of traits that make people successful leaders, there’s one that is too often overlooked—being weird. Why do we disregard the power that comes from being different? It is time to embrace what makes us weird and incorporate it into our lives.

To be labeled a weirdo should be synonymous with being an innovator, a thought leader, an entrepreneur. It is weird to see something and think, “I can make that better.” It is weird to contemplate a solution for a plan that seems to be working just fine. It is weird to speak out against popular opinion with a new, contradictory idea. These are not things “normal” people do.

To make weird a part of our company culture, it helps to specify what we’re talking about. Being weird is not about bucking the norm simply for the sake of being different or seeking attention. Anyone can wear unusual clothes or ironically play a kazoo. In fact, if you start any initiative with the thought, “Yeah, this is gonna be weird,” then you are missing the point.

I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird.—Frank Zappa

The intent of embracing your weirdness is to unleash the unconventional thoughts you are already having. We all have an inner drive to accomplish goals that are daring and innovative and progressive. However embracing your weirdness is more than feeling this inner drive; it involves putting action behind your thoughts. If you’re ready to take on this challenge, here are three practices to get you started:

#1 Acknowledge that you have issues

I had a mentor who started meetings with each person stating their “issues.” This lighthearted exercise was intended to break down social barriers and generate social cohesion. When I was asked this in my first week on the job, I said that I don’t have issues. The room laughed knowing that we all have issues.

These issues are the individual quirks that make us different. It can include something as simple as your predilection for starting every day singing a Neil Diamond song or your ability to quote every line from The Big Lebowski or that you’ve watched so much Walking Dead you create an emergency exit strategy whenever entering a room… or maybe that’s just me.

Where’s your will to be weird?—Jim Morrison

The point is that we must own our weirdness before we have leverage it. Admittedly, this can be an uncomfortable exercise—it’s engrained in us since childhood that weirdness is a bad thing. Just keep reminding yourself that people who blend it, do not stand out.

#2 Stop being boring

If this sounds too easy, that’s because it is. You can actively will yourself into being weirder simply by making the effort to be more interesting. A few suggestions:

  • watch less TV, or at least watch a greater variety of shows
  • do not list “checking your social media” as a hobby
  • try different restaurants
  • engage in substantive conversations, and do not talk about the weather… ever!
  • create a bucket list of things to do, new skills to learn, and places to go
  • stray from mainstream media
  • engage in one remarkable activity every weekend (or at least every month)
  • stop expecting to be entertained by others
  • and stop expecting others to do all talking

It’s good as an artist to always remember to see things in a new, weird way.—Tim Burton

#3 Be the CWO (Chief Weird Officer)

Once you’ve embraced your weirdness, it’s time to strengthen it throughout your organization. Leaders must make an exerted effort to structure their team in a way that nurtures the weird so people can more fully reveal and utilize their talents. This includes fostering a work environment that negates the social stigmas that stifle offbeat creativity. Where imperfection is not just allowed, but encouraged as a means of development and learning. Where sameness is not tolerated. Where speaking up is incentivized, even when they’re wrong.

To bring out the weirdness, leaders can also help those on their team find their niche. In her book Stand Out, esteemed strategy consultant Dorie Clark discussed the need to be recognized as an authority or expert through a strong professional reputation. This can happen by expanding your focus, but more often weirdness is tapped by “niching down” or narrowing focus on a topic. If the leader exposes team members to a plethora of opportunities to learn and grow, they can find their niche and “weird out” on it.

I always encourage young people who ask me for advice to be themselves. Whatever is weird about you, whatever weird thing you do to crack up your siblings, that other people at school maybe say, ‘Man, you’re weird,’ that’s the most valuable thing you have. Because if you try to homogenize yourself and act like other people on television or other people in the audition room, then you’re taking away your weirdness.—Nick Offerman

Being weird means putting yourself out there. This involves a degree of vulnerability and a willingness to take on risk. “Normal” people stifle these insecurities; that’s what makes them normal. But those who embrace their weirdness are eager to break through the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset. It may feel lonely at times, but it is ultimately more fulfilling and leads to bigger results. As they say, “Go weird or go home.”

Supergirl on Being Overshadowed by a Super-Leader

superman-supergirlOne of my favorite new shows last year was Supergirl. You may feel that I’m partial to superhero-based shows (click here to learn more), but this really is a great story.

Remember when Superman escaped from this home planet just before it blew up? Well imagine that his older cousin, Kara, was sent in a separate spaceship to protect him on their new planet, Earth. Unfortunately, Kara’s rocket was diverted and she arrived 24 years later to find that her cousin is grown up and has become the world’s most renowned superhero.

The show picks up with Kara acclimating to her newfound superhero identity. In itself, this is an interesting story. What’s unique, however, is how Kara is overshadowed by her already-established cousin.

[We] all live in someone’s shadow in our lives, and we’re all second best to someone in our lives. What’s amazing on this show is she gets to be at the forefront.—Ali Adler, Supergirl executive producer

The dynamics between a leader and super-leader can lead to feels of animosity, frustration, and resentment– we are great, until he shows up. There’s no denying that your leadership abilities are dwarfed by the super-leader, and worse, you can’t help but acknowledge that he/she really is super. This then leads to further feels of animosity, frustration, and resentment.

When insecurity strikes, it can have devastating affects on your team. For instance, new research shows that these leaders often preclude co-workers from forming cooperative relationships. They tend to separate the highly skilled individuals, thereby blocking interactions that are essential to nurturing group success. These vulnerable leaders continue this behavior even after being instructed on the ways collaboration enhances team performance.

People [on the show] are in awe of Superman, just in the same way that the audience is. So part of what Kara is dealing with is he walks into a room and everybody gets real quiet and stares, and she’s like, ‘Oh God, oh brother. All right, it’s my cousin. Get over it.’—Andrew Kreisberg, Supergirl executive producer

While it may not seem logical to isolate your A-players, in the midst of insecurity, otherwise rational leaders frequently try to bolster their position by abating cohesion. If people don’t have a relationship, they cannot discuss your shortcomings in relation to the super-leader, nor can they plot against you.

Supergirl understands why the world loves Superman. In response, she seeks ways to learn from him. Instead of being worried about comparisons, she embraces opportunities to work together so, with time, she can be seen an equal, a peer who works with him, not under him. Utilize your relationship with the super-leaders in your life. They may be the mentor you’ve always needed.

We Need to Think Twice Before “The Last Man on Earth” is Granted Authority: Phil Miller’s Cautionary Tale

The Last Man on EarthIf you’ve been watching the show The Last Man on Earth then you are aware of Phil Miller (Will Forte), a good natured guy who is one of the sole survivors of a cataclysm that wipes out most the Earth’s population. Miller has the best of intentions but when he finds himself in a place of power, you realize that he is not equipped to lead others. Like many people, Miller quickly tries to turn his managerial role into a dictatorship.

It is not uncommon for novice leaders to be affected by newfound power. A recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who have experienced little to no prior power are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors when placed in a supervisory role. This includes greater displays of hostility, leveraging power for personal favors, obstructing opportunities for subordinates, and harassing those under their direction.

According to the researchers, powerlessness is accompanied by feelings of shame and frustration. Individuals who see themselves as chronically denied power are motivated to correct their shortfall by exploiting whatever opportunities they can attain. This then makes them feel more powerful.

For those of us in a position of promoting and hiring new leaders, these results are alarming. How do we provide opportunities to those who have shown an aptitude to move up the ladder while also weeding out candidates who will relish the power a bit too much? Consider the following:

  • Look at prior leadership experience. This does not have to be work-related. Go back to their school years. Ask about leadership roles in their church. The goal is to find a pattern of seeking and/or being sought for greater responsibility.
  • Dig into why they want to be a leader. What is their motivation for aspiring towards a position that is much more stressful than being a lone operator? Does personal ambition trump company well-being?
  • Conduct behavioral interviews. Past experience is the best predictor of future performance. By asking “How did you do _____ in your last job?”, the behavioral interview provides a view into their decision making and inner drive.
  • Develop skills before getting the job. If you have a group of promising up-and-comers, enroll them in leadership training before they become a leader. This will help set expectations, expedite the learning curve, and set the groundwork to minimize the growing pains typical of an inexperienced leader.
  • Conduct a pilot program. If you want to know how someone will react in a leadership role, give them a leadership role. Before an official promotion, put them in charge of a task force or committee. The stakes are lower and the potential damage is limited.

On The Last Man on Earth, the number of people to accept a leadership role is limited. Phil Miller takes charge because he can. However, <spoiler alert> he is quickly stripped of all power when the other survivors become aggravated with his belligerent attitude. Turns out that before the apocalypse Miller had a history of feeling powerless, and as his actions showed, he was unprepared for this sudden burst of authority.

Don’t make the same mistake in your workplace. Prioritize the importance of identifying candidates who share the company’s values and are able to communicate and model these values for others. Grow your future leader before they take on responsibility. Select people who want to be a leader for the right reasons and continue to stretch their skills so they are ready when opportunities arise.

L.A. Reid on Surrounding Yourself with Top Performers

L.A. ReidWant to make a rookie leadership mistake? Only hire people who you are certain will never be as good as you. That way, you will always be indispensible, right? This happens all too often and, in my experience, I’ve never seen it turn out well for the leader. Don’t believe me? Maybe L.A. Reid can convince you.

If you’ve listened to any music in the last thirty years, then L.A. Reid has affected your life. As a three-time Grammy Award-winning Chairman and CEO of Epic Records, Reid has played a role in the success of such artists as Bon Jovi, Rihanna, Meghan Trainor, P!nk, Justin Bieber, and Mariah Carey, just to name a few. He is also the CEO of LAReidMusic Publishing, former Chairman and CEO of the Island Def Jam Music Group, and was a judge on the television show The X Factor. Basically, Reid is a really successful businessperson.

In a recent interview, Reid discussed his hiring philosophy. It is as applicable in the music industry as it is to every other leader.

I try to find people that are arguably smarter than I am. And then I have to be confident that I won’t lose my job because of it. And by the way, I actually have. I’ve hired people that are so good that they’ve taken my job, but that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted people so good around me that when I’m off they’re on, because none of us can be on 100 percent of the time.

Consider how self-assured a leader must be to enact such a mindset. You are purposely surrounding yourself with your possible replacement. An insecure manager will see this as foolhardy and an unnecessary risk. They will stunt the development of those on their team and compartmentalize information. They’ll also learn that a team full of mediocre performers will result in a mediocre work product, regardless of the greatness of the leader.

The secure leader understands the aphorism a rising tide lifts all boats. Talented team members make everyone more successful…including the leader. You get credit for the accomplishments of those on your team. Share the credit (of course), but imagine how many wins can take place under your tutelage with an entire team of high performers. Your reputation becomes synonymous with achievement. This leads to both your promotion and the promotion of those you lead.

When looking for people to join your team, hire the best. Look for passion, drive, and intelligence. Find those who are willing to challenge you but are also interested in collaborating with the team. Then, once you hire them, put your energy into keeping them motivated and challenged. Support their growth and don’t be stingy with the compliments.

I’ll leave you with an example of L.A. Reid overcoming his self-doubt to hire a true talent.

We go out and I pitch [Jay Z] the idea of being president of Def Jam. There was this 48-hour period when I wasn’t sure he would take it [and thought] what if he does sign and then he comes into the building and oh my god he’s Jay Z. I just hired Elvis. So I called Doug Morris and I said, ‘No one’s gonna want to come to my office.’ [Morris responded]:‘You think that when you hire Jay Z it’s going to make you shrink? You got it all wrong, when you hire Jay Z it’s going to make you grow.’ And I realized in that moment that’s what it means to surround yourself with people that are arguably greater than you are. And I did and my company had a run, it was such a run you wouldn’t believe it I mean we got on fire instantly. And he was right.