How to Be A Rebel Leader

I was inspired by a shared tweet that included the following illustration:














These principles come from the work of Francesca Gino and her new book, Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules At Work And In Life.  I highly recommend Francesca’s book (and her first book, Sidetracked, too.)  Francesca has tapped into what’s keeping us from being our best selves personally in her book Sidetracked and professionally in her book Rebel Leader.

Is (or Was) Agile A Rebel Movement?

Reviewing The Agile Manifesto (especially the Twelve Principles) I believe the answer is Yes.  I say “Was” in the title of this section because I’m increasingly seeing (and learning about) more (and more) Agile initiatives being rolled out like product and program initiatives were rolled out prior to February 2001 (when The Agile Manifesto emerged from the meetings at Snowbird.  Recent examples include the rigid conformity around adopting The Spotify Model (mechanically, at best), forcing Business Analysts to become Scrum Masters or Product Owners with 2-days of training, and forcing Project Managers and Program Managers to become Scrum Masters or Release Train Engineers with equally brief preparation.  There wasn’t a major upheaval in product and program management when The Manifesto was released, but it did signal that enough is enough (my synopsis of the four values and twelve principles) and that the authors are practicing and advocating for significant changes (per the word, manifesto.)

Where Is Agile Failing (and Who Is Responsible?)

When I review the latest causes of Agile Adoption Consternation shared in the VersionOne State of Agile Report for 2018, I’m reminded that the issues and obstacles I experienced (and witnessed) early in my career remain with us four decades later.  These are the corresponding VersionOne Survey Results:

While VersionOne states that there is a year-over-year improvement in Organizational culture at odds with agile values for 2018, I’m stunned that more than 50% of respondents cited this obstacle.  When I review the top 5 challenges above, I conclude that effective leadership especially at senior levels remains detached if not disinterested in outcomes potentially available through their Agile Initiatives.  How else to explain these challenges (or impediments) with Culture, Organization, Management, Sponsorship, Skills, Training and Education?  Why are the rest of us allowing this to occur (and occur, …?)

Take Action



Agile is almost 2 decades old, and there are increasingly louder voices seeking (yet) another vision for how to organize people, teams and organizations to work effectively. We’ve allowed Agile to fall prey to the orthodox command and control methods that precipitated The Manifesto’s emergence and adoption.  We’ve also allowed Leadership to skate by without investing sufficiently in their own improvement and learning in support of Agile initiatives.  While there is an effort to deliver Agile Leadership Coaching Services by independent coaches and professional services firms, I question the impact of these services.  My impression is that leaders subscribe to sufficient coaching and training to check the box and then return to their usual areas of responsibility believing Agile (remains) an IT thing.  Here are some suggestions and recommendations.




Embrace Your Inner Rebel

Rebel Leadership complements Robert Greenleaf’s servant-leadership values and principles.  There’s no argument that servant-leadership is an effective way to operate as an individual contributor as well as a leader.  Organize a brown-bag lunch for your leadership peers and their direct reports and explain how embracing servant-leadership (in addition to the Eight Principles of Rebel Leadership) will increasingly align corporate, organizational, program and personal values, principles and practices: Here’s a very effective guide from Trammell McGee-Cooper and Associates (and start with the list on Page 5 to prepare your presentation.)  Offer your brown-bag lunch monthly to a wider audience and you’ll have a demonstrable impact.

Resist Conformity


If you’re in a leadership position, you likely reached this level of responsibility (at least partially) through the actions of one or more other leaders who recognized your abilities, skills and potential and made this role available to you.  Are you emulating them, or are you your own form of leader?  Do you know the difference?  Here’s one view of leadership from Esko Hannula and his book Three Skills of Advantage The Skill of Quality, The Skill of Agility, The Skill of Decision: It is extraordinary how little leaders practice the theory, technique and creative adaptation of their skills.  Every professional musician has a more impressive record of rehearsing their performances than the average leader has of practicing leadership.  Heed Esko’s advice and resist the conformity that often comes with settling into a leadership role and repeating the usual leadership rituals and behaviors.


Be Humble

Yes, I said “Be humble.”  Effective leaders practice humility and achieve extraordinary results.  Berwyn Hayes and Michael Comer have shared an experience-informed guide to effective leadership humility in their book Start With Humility: Lessons From America’s Quiet CEOs On How to Build Trust and Inspire Followers.  An early chapter, Finding Your Authentic Core, should be required reading for everyone seeking to improve their effectiveness regardless of their role or profession.  Hayes and Comer present several tools and techniques for assessing and improving one’s humility.  They also present real-life CEO examples where practicing humility has led to organizational achievements that surpassed everyone’s expectations.

Are Your A Rebel?  Let’s Find Out!



Francesca Gino has made an anonymous self-evaluation tool available.

I strongly encourage you to complete it and digest your results: Take the Rebel Assessment

Results are for your eyes (and use), only.  I have no connection to the test or the corresponding data.  I took it too!

Greg Tutunjian

Greg Tutunjian is a leadership and performance coach specializing in team-centric innovation. Greg is a former software and systems engineer, technical program manager and director, and now advisor to organizations ranging from small and medium-sized software product and service companies to Fortune 10 multinationals.