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Are you an Unconventional Leader?

Are you an Unconventional Leader?

Unconventional leaders get it done.

It does not matter if we are talking about business leaders, sports team leaders, military leaders or social movement leaders.  The people who are able to take the conventional learning that they have received and then come up with a better mousetrap are the ones that standout in this world.

Unconventional leaders are rare and it normally takes time before a leader gets the label of being unconventional.  They all tend to move from those stages of:

That will never work

That might work

You are a genius

Why are unconventional leaders so rare?  I argue that most of the education systems of the last two hundred years are like the old coal-fired factories of the nineteenth and early twentieth century trying to turn out the same product (in this case students, leaders, etc.) over and over again.  Institutions, bureaucracies want sameness you can rate and judge sameness you can not judge outliers because they do not fit into the standard placeholder.


One of the more unconventional leaders in U.S. history is Robert E Lee.  From the outside, it would look like Lee would have been one of the more conventional leaders of the mid-nineteenth century.  He came from a semi-aristocratic Virgina family, went to West Point, studied engineering, and like all cadets, studied Napoleon’s writings and lessons on how to wage on war.

What made Lee an unconventional leader during the US Civil War (or War of Yankee aggression for all my Southern readers) is that he understood his resource constraints in terms of number of fighting men, weapons, supplies etc. and quickly moved away from the traditional ideas on how to fight battles.  You see Napoleon’s writings on war were outdated by 1861 but the opposition still held on to those teachings as the only way to defeat an opponent.

The Northern generals were still creating their action plans base on those old teachings while Lee created his plans based on the characteristics of his team, topography and technology.

The Northern generals tried and did assemble massive armies on the field, sometimes out numbering Lee’s forces 4 to 1.  However, Lee for a period of about three years kept the larger better equipped, Army of The Potomac from successfully advancing onto the South’s Capital in RichmondVA.

How did Lee keep the larger opponent from realizing their goal for so long?  He accomplished that feat by using the core values of an unconventional leader.


Unconventional leaders are not afraid to throw out the rulebook or the lessons of the past if they are not applicable to the current situation.  They have an understanding of what worked before will not work now and that the current situation requires them to be creative, flexible and take risks if they want to succeed.

Those leaders that stick with the old lessons of the past may succeed in the short term.  However, in the long term, the unconventional leaders are most likely to be the real game changers in their industries.

When my small business clients get stuck, I remind them that what got them to where they are now will not take them to where they want to go unless they get a little creative, flexible and agree to take some risks that their competitors will not.

Please share with the Get2it community how you incorporate the core values of unconventional leadership into your decision-making either on a personal level or as a business leader.



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