Are You A Rebel Leader?

with Larry Robertson


Larry Robertson is an innovation advisor, helping people discover value at the nexus of leadership, entrepreneurship, and creativity. He’s a Fulbright scholar and a popular columnist with Inc. Magazine, The Creativity Post, CEO World Magazine, SmartBrief, and others. He’s also the award-winning author of three books, A Deliberate Pause, The Language of Man, and Rebel Leadership.

Back to the Basics

Growing up, Larry did not often have people asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Rather, there was an openness and freedom to explore that allowed him to understand that there are countless things you can be – there’s no need to pick one right now! Also, Larry had several examples around him of family members making less than traditional career path choices which further cemented his freedom to explore his passions. However, Larry did clearly identify at an early age that he did not want to be a lawyer. He came from a long line of lawyers and even before he knew exactly what that work entailed, he knew that this was not the path he was destined to walk. This upbringing has served Larry well and each time Larry has moved from one professional opportunity to another it was because of the openness that he explored and internalized in his childhood. Thinking about an opportunity as “the end” would not be helpful and would likely cause him to lose his motivation.

The Adjacent Possible

During one of Larry’s countless conversations with contemporary leaders, he was introduced to the idea of the adjacent possible. The biggest opportunities are adjacent to where you are right now. They require you to step across an uncomfortable line and dip your toes into something not quite what you thought or think you should be focusing on. The more you embrace this openness of thinking, the more you are able to create habits and gain larger opportunities. This is inspiring without being intimidating. There is no idea or expectation that lightning will strike and you will quickly and easily find an amazing opportunity. The biggest aspect is the habit of stepping out of your “known zone” and into a new world of possibility. All it takes is a toe over the line. The more often you do this, the better you will be prepared for tough times.

Learn But Don’t Imitate

One of the biggest lessons that Larry has learned (and continues to learn!) is that no matter who Larry admires and models, his leadership style will not be the same as anyone else’s. Books that fall under the category of “My Story” (where the leader shares their specific tips for success) are great to read and helpful but should not be used as an exact blueprint as to how you should be orienting your life. While these resources can be extraordinarily helpful, it is essential to remember that our version is always going to be unique. This can often come to light on the topic of core values. People don’t know their core values but they know when they have been violated. They do not always articulate their values and looking to others is not a helpful way to articulate who they are and what they desire. Remember, you can be any type of leader you would like to be. Also, you should also be open to your type of leadership changing – who you are now is not necessarily the perfect model for who you will be in the future.

Rebel Leadership

Uncertainty is unending but the kind that we have been facing in the last 2 years and even the last 20 years is a new paradigm. However, even though so much has changed we are still leaning on an old model to guide us through. With that said, we need to embrace uncertainty and we need to ensure that our model allows us to effectively do this. Another opportunity is to examine the patterns in the last 20 years and identify the things that have worked? Larry’s book outlines a framework of how to approach these questions, not a model. The frameworks that are discussed are intended to be transferable to other people and places so that the reader does not fall in the “My Story” trap that we outlined earlier.


One of things that most excites Larry is the opportunity for culture in the workplace. Specifically when culture becomes an inclusive and integral part of an organization. Most leaders recognize to some degree that a healthy culture is an important part of success but only the truly successful leaders are able to make culture matter in an operational sense. Culture should be every organization’s chief advantage – if people do not feel themselves as part of the culture, they will leave. In fact, the great exodus that we are currently experiencing is partially fueled by this desire to find a workplace that more closely resembles the culture that workers are seeking.

5 Steps

Here are five steps or five habits of the mind that allow you to check the pulse of your team and your team’s culture and the answers to these questions will tell you a lot about your company’s culture as a whole.
How do we know what we know?
Is there a pattern?
What if?
Is there another way?
Who cares?
Remember, the absence of culture is its own form of culture.

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