Unconventional leaders lead their companies to repeatedly create things that people love, but no one expected, especially their competition. Unconventional leaders focus on providing the best products and services, rather than profit, yet they tend to lead the most profitable firms in their industries. They create organizations built on creativity, flexibility and risk-taking that innovate and win. They define their industries and sometimes the way people live. Through their companies, they often lead other firms in terms of technology, customer service, etc. Below are some examples of unconventional leaders. The concepts that they use (and I teach) work across industries, non-profits, NGOs and even national leadership. Therefore, if they can become successful unconventional leaders, so can you!
Steve Jobs – …co-founder of Apple, the company that has changed the way millions of people communicate, learn, etc. Despite having dropped out of college and with no benefit of business education, he became one of the best leaders in modern business history. Conventional management wisdom dictates that companies should focus on what they know. Instead of focusing on computers, which is what Apple knew , under his leadership, Apple expanded into mp3 players, music distribution, cell phones, tablets and retail. As of 2015, Apple is the most valuable company in the US stock market. Thinking different really pays off.
Herb Kelleher – The wacky co-founder of Southwest Airlines, the most innovative airline in the industry with more than 35 years of nonstop profitability. Breaking from conventional wisdom, Herb created a culture that is focused on satisfying employees rather than customers. A sense of humor is one of this company’s core values, just like its founder. Herb is a lawyer by trade and had no airline experience when he started the company, which he led for decades of growth and profitability in the money losing airline industry. He demonstrates that often the best leaders come out of left field.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – …former 2 term president of Brazil, who had a 70% approval rating and presided over the transformation of the Brazilian economy. One would think someone who is credited with helping Brazil become one of the fastest growing economies in the world must have business experience. However, Lula was a former leftist labor leader. Conventional wisdom would tell you that such a successful person must have a college degree. However, Lula is a former shoeshiner and has 4th grade education. His ability to think and lead unconventionally made him tremendously successful.
Richard Branson – Despite having dyslexia and dropping out of high school, he has been far more successful than most conventional university educated business leaders. He is the founder and chairman of Virgin Group, a company worth $8 billion with over 400 diverse companies and 50,000 employees. Richard had no managerial experience when he started his company and he has no expertise in most businesses currently owned. By the way, this unconventional leader has a net worth of about $4 billion!
Mark Zuckerberg – Conventional wisdom suggests that a college drop out with no management or marketing experience should not be hired to run a McDonalds. Since that is the description of Mark, he defied conventional wisdom and did even better. He is the founder and CEO of Facebook, a company that has changed the lives of millions. It is worth $75-100 billion, has more than 800 million users and employs more than 2,000 people world wide. If he had stayed in college, the conventional thing to do, he would be earning little and owe a lot in college debt. Instead, he did the unconventional, which has resulted in a net worth of over $7 billion.
Muhammad Yunus – Dr. Yunis did not let his advanced education prevent him from thinking outside the book. He originated the idea of micro-credit to help the poor in Bangladesh. The result is Grameen Bank, a non-profit bank he started, despite having no banking experience. The result is an organization that has reached millions and has a higher loan repayment rate than conventional banks. The micro-credit concept has been applied around the world. For his efforts, Dr. Yunis earned a Nobel Prize. Now the people with decades of banking experience come to him to learn about micro-credit.
Eric J Romero, PhD is an expert in Unconventional Leadership, Strategy, Culture & Innovation