Leaders like Sir Richard Branson, Oprah, Steve Jobs, Bob Dylan, or Walt Disney are or were steadfastly committed to their own vision, values, and sense of the world. That kind of sensibility goes beyond spin and public relations points and rises to genuine truth: These leaders are not afraid to step over the line, again and again.
Stand on the other side of the line and try to get people to cross it–that’s leadership.
How, then, do you lead? Here are seven ways:
Start by telling your people the story behind why you’re on the “other” side. Why aren’t you over here? What’s wrong with you?
And make them believe it as much as you do. Make it bigger than they are. For example, explain how you’re changing the world, or at least how you should. There’s a lot that needs fixing. Grab a shovel.
Make a flag. Paint a bus. A building. Show people who you are. Look different. Act different. Be different. Mark your territory.
Make sure that what you and your followers do is divergent, better, or just weird enough so that other people want to do it, too. Disrupt the hell out of the status quo. They deserve it. Create rituals that celebrate your accomplishments and also reinforce your values, vision, and beliefs.
Describe what you’re doing with words that tweak people’s ears. “Twerk.” “Iced grande skinny latte.” “Disintermediation.” Intrigue them with language. Make it so unique that, if others want to join, they’ll have to learn the language, too. Those who learn the words will become a part of your community. Those who don’t, won’t.
As you grow and gather new hires, make certain they understand your vision, values, and how you don’t do things in their first interview. Otherwise, as you hire talent away from competitors, they will import your competitors’ vision and values and ways of doing things and pollute your culture.
Make sure that team leaders and those who come behind you know how to do all these things, too. They’ll have to carry your torch.
These may seem like ordinary subject points, but wrapped together they create a constellation of touchstones that not only walk people through your storyline but also reach them at the deepest levels of thought and emotion. It is the system behind belief: holistically designed to attract others who share what you believe.
This is what leaders do: They dare the universe. They connect with people.
Social communities are not created solely through digital code, but by the emotional touch points that connect us as human beings: the social code.
Leaders create communities of people who follow them, first by twos and fours, then by multitudes.
Leaders create cults. From person to pack, they transform these odd little cults into resonant cultures filled with individuals who are willing to take the same insanely emotional trip (usually defying reason and common sense) from “Who cares?” to “I care!”
Think of how oddball runners running through rain, heat, snow became that heralded tribe of millions called “marathoners.” How reclusive geeks in physics and math kept the lights on late into the night to become heroic hackers in the global digital universe. How social revolutionaries put their values before dollars and rifted the corporate perspective.
Leadership is about weaving together exceptional stories that create the sticky attachments we have to the communities that surround people, places and things.