If you’ve ever read a book on leadership, it probably provided you with a checklist of things to do to be successful. Most leadership experts present you with a system, and if you follow their system, they tell you that you’re sure to succeed.
There are plenty of benefits to such formulaic ideas of leadership, to be sure. You get the benefit of someone else’s experience and a short cut on the learning curve. Any system also gives you a step-by-step approach, which helps you know where to start and how to proceed. It takes much of the guess work out of getting started, which is definitely a benefit.
As beneficial as it can be to have a system, sometimes the best leadership strategy is to do the unexpected. It takes boldness and audacity to do something that is outside of the prescribed norm, but that is also where all the opportunity lies. Very few people have the courage and emotional intelligence to be able to step out of their comfort zones and try something that seems like it came from left field. To those leaders who do the unexpected, however, there are several invaluable benefits.
First, doing the unexpected promotes innovation. I am a huge fan of industrialist Henry Ford. At the turn of the 20th Century, the automobile was a hand-crafted work of an artisan, affordable only to the very wealthy. Ford did something totally unexpected and applied assembly-line manufacturing technology to cars, making them affordable to the middle class. He also broke with Gilded Age industrial tradition and paid his workers enough money to be able to afford the cars they produced. The result was one of the most significant innovations in human history. Ford was not afraid to do something unexpected. As a matter of fact, when asked why he innovated in this way, rather than sticking with industry standards, he said, “If I’d asked the people what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.”
The second benefit of doing the unexpected is to gain a competitive advantage. Most of the time, the competitive marketplace reduces companies to making minor adjustments in price and quality in order to gain a slight edge over others in their market segment. This strategy may give a temporary advantage, but it doesn’t give a long-term advantage. In order to totally rock the market, a company has to do something completely audacious. Think about Apple and the iPhone. When Steve Jobs had this idea, the market was controlled by personal digital assistants (PDA) like the Palm Pilot. Blackberry added a phone to this, which gave them a temporary advantage. Jobs, however, did the unexpected by adding music, a camera, and mobile data to these devices in order to create the iPhone. Everyone thought he was crazy at the time, but he (almost) singlehandedly created the smartphone market and completely transformed humanity’s relationship with technology.
Finally, doing the unexpected helps build strong relationships—both interpersonally and with clients. Think about your romantic relationships. When you get something unexpected—like flowers for no reason, a special dinner, or even just a surprise cup of coffee from a co-worker, doesn’t it enhance your relationship with that person? Now think about how doing the unexpected will make your customers feel! I am a huge fan of the TV show “Fixer Upper,” and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Waco, TX with a friend to visit Magnolia Market at The Silos. That whole project is the result of an audacious idea to redevelop downtown Waco. The thing that most impressed me, however, were the little unexpected touches everywhere we went. People held open doors, greeted us with a hearty, “Welcome, y’all” and went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We happened to be there for my birthday, and when my friend mentioned to a cashier in the market that it was my birthday, they got a cupcake from the bakery next door and gave it to me. These were the small, unexpected touches that will make me go back.
If you want to be a leader in your field, think of something unexpected you can do to innovate, gain an advantage, or build your relationships. It’s the audacious thing to do—and it will pay off big time.