The rebel leader

In light of the recent political upheavals, I think it’s interesting to take a look at Harvard Business Review’s article about leadership vs. rebellion. It’s pretty easy for us to automatically assume that the person who is rebelling against the establishment, or conventional wisdom, is one who is capable of leading.  Sometimes, this can be true.  At other times, this can be disastrous.  For Robespierre, the Reign of Terror, of which he was the main instigator, did not end well.

I think the American mindset is one that embraces the idea of the rebel because of our history.  After all, America would not be what it is today if it had not rebelled against England.  We admire James Dean and Jack Kerouac.  We secretly (or not-so-secretly) wish we could be like them.  However, in practice, we are often critical of the lone dissenter and dismiss his/her observations.  After all, the rebel criticizes and destroys.  The rebel creates conflict.  So why on earth would we want a rebel as a leader?

In truth, there may not be much of a difference between the rebel and the leader. According to the aforementioned article,

  • To rebel is to push against something. To lead is to advocate for an idea.
  • To rebel is to say “heck no.” To lead is to say “we will.”
  • To rebel is to deny the authority of others. To lead is to invoke your own authority.

The line between a rebel and a leader is razor thin.  Often the difference lies solely on the mindset and attitude of the individual who is attempting to lead.  Sometimes, an individual can start out as a rebel and will only be vindicated as a leader by history.  Sometimes, perceptions may be biased depending on where the individual stands on certain issues.

While the author of the article goes on to suggest using a less polarizing term to describe these individuals, she does conclude by saying, “You can be a rebel without being a leader, but you can rarely be an effective leader without having a little bit of rebel in you”.


About Anna Kim

I am a school librarian with Chicago Public Schools.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Reflection and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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