Managing Rebel Talent

How do you support innovation without enabling chaos?

Summary
Transcript

In this backstage interview from Leadercast Women 2019, Francesca Gino, a researcher and professor for Harvard Business School, shares how leaders can support and manage rebel talent—those who break rules for the sake of innovation—without enabling chaos. 

When someone is pushing boundaries, Francesca says it’s important leaders know what the intention or motive is. “They might be in front of situations where people are just trying to offer a different perspective or a different way of approaching a certain way of working in a way that can be really beneficial,” she says. “When you hear the unreasonable idea or the idea that it's just different from yours, give it space and support the person and try to see what you can learn from them.”

Watch the video to hear from Francesca about how to manage rebel talent without stifling their creativity.

One of the questions I hear a lot from leaders and managers is, "How do I manage rebels who work for me or who report directly to me?" It's interesting that I think there is a lot of fear embedded in that question of thinking that somehow if you let these people bring out their rebelliousness we're gonna end up with a lot of chaos.

And what I always say to leaders is to think about how people are pushing the boundaries and what's their intentions and their basic motive. Because they might be in front of situations where people are just trying to offer a different perspective or a different way of approaching a certain way of working in a way that can be really beneficial. And so I often have conversations with them about trying to be more open to consider an idea even if at first you might be a little bit unreasonable or it might be something that is clearly not something that you thought was possible or you've done before.

An example that I use with a lot of leaders comes from Honda Aircraft. The person who is now the CEO of Honda Aircraft was put in charge of creating a new type of personal jet, of designing this new type of personal jet. What Honda wanted to do was access a different set of consumers out there who maybe don't have a super-large budget but they want to have the experience of being on a personal jet. And so the person who is an engineer went to work and he started doing some drawings and a certain point he went to his boss.

One of the things that he knew from engineering school is that you’re not supposed to put the engines on top of the wings. That, I hear, creates all sorts of problems from an aerodynamical perspective. But in his design that's what he did. His boss looked at it and then he looked at him and said, "This is the worst piece of engineering I've ever seen in my entire career." Now most people would have stopped there. The engineer didn't he kept going, he created simulations, he created prototypes. If you were to Google now “Honda personal jet” you would see this beautiful plane that has engines at the type of the wings.

So I use the example to say you don't want to be that leader. When you hear the unreasonable idea or the idea that it's just different from yours, give it space and support the person and try to see what you can learn from them.
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Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino is an award-winning researcher and teacher, and a tenured professor at Harvard Business School. Her consulting and speaking clients include Bacardi, Akamai, Disney, Goldman Sachs, Honeywell, Novartis, P&G and branch...

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