Leading from Your Strengths Will Sometimes Look Unusual
This is a theme that you see again and again. Here’s an example from Best Buy’s CEO Brad Anderson, from the book Strengths-Based Leadership:
Anderson’s career continued to advance during this time of transition, and he was named Best Buy’s president in 1991. From the day Anderson assumed this leadership role, it was clear he wasn’t going to fit anyone’s preconceived notions of a top corporate executive. Instead of conforming to the new role, this self-described “odd duck” decided to do things quite differently.
While Wall Street analysts, among others, expected Anderson to take a more conventional approach as Best Buy’s new president, that’s not what he did. Much to their consternation, Anderson would simply disappear for weeks on end in search of new ideas. Instead of poring through trade or business books, he read everything from Rolling Stone to historical biographies. Anderson attended non-electronics conferences in search of bigger ideas. He brought in countless outside experts to challenge Best Buy’s thinking. His Ideation, Input, and Learner themes were always at work. By Anderson’s own admission, he challenged conventional wisdom to the point where it was “radically complained about by my peers.” . . .
While studying successful leaders like Anderson, one of the most revealing items we asked leaders to respond to was: “Please describe a time when you felt like you were ‘in a zone,’ where time almost seemed to stand still.” Anderson told us that he feels this way almost any time he is learning something, whether it is from a person, a book, or solving a puzzle. He said, “I find it amazing that I can be fifty-eight years old and seem to know less every day. No matter how much you learn, it just continues to open up more substantial questions and relationships.”
Anderson went on to tell us about how, the night before our conversation, he had stepped out of a dinner early so he could spend some quality time at a nearby Barnes & Noble before heading home. The voracious learner, who reads several books each week, said that he found at least 28 books he wanted to take home that evening. “It’s a disease,” he said with a smile.
We suspect that there are millions of Best Buy employees, customers, and shareholders who are glad that Brad Anderson let this lifelong curiosity run its course. While his strategic thinking led to a few experiments that did not pan out, Anderson’s unconventional approach helped create unprecedented growth. Had you invested $1,000 in Best Buy’s stock in 1991, when Anderson took over as president, it would have been worth $175,000 by 2008. Not bad for a guy who started at the ground level and spent the next 25 years soaring with his strengths.
So one of the lessons here is: lead from your strengths, even if it means being unconventional. You will be more effective being who you are than who you are not. In fact, it’s often the most unconventional minds that make a difference because what seems unconventional is often simply counterintuitive wisdom (for more on which see, for example, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win and What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management).