Book review - Rebels at Work, A Handbook for Leading Change from Within

in ‘Rebels at Work’, authors Lois Kelly and Carmen Medina deliver a brilliant handbook to help those Rebels at work who want to create positive change but need some guidance on how to do it with the best impact. Here are my takeaways…

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I absolutely love this book. It came highly recommended by digital marketing expert Simon Swan and I’m already on my third reading (thanks Simon). This is the most practical book about the people who help organisations drive change from inside I’ve come across – it’s a proper handbook. It mostly relates to making change happen inside an organisation, but the more I read it, I’ve found that a large chunk of the tips apply to rebels inside and outside organisations. And it’s packed with advice, guidance and resources to support rebels who want to drive change in the right way.

What does it cover?

Pretty much everything you need to know about being a rebel, how to keep going and knowing when to stop, is included here in a pragmatic and engaging way. It covers many of the aspects involved in bringing about positive change. And, it’s not just for rebels – it includes information on how leaders can recognise the value rebels can bring in a chapter called, ‘Give this chapter to your boss’.

What are the stand outs?

There are LOADS so tricky to pick these, but here are my three stand-outs:

We need rebels

Early on in the book is a quick glimpse into a world without rebels, directly referencing George Orwell’s ‘1984’. If we follow ‘groupthink’ and an over-emphasis on bureaucracy, we have little opportunity for innovation and so change. Decision-making gets narrowed and, in the example they mention of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, dangers raised by rebels in the organisation can go unheard. In brief, when it’s psychologically unsafe to speak out things become unsafe for organisations. Other examples they mention support the argument that all organisations need rebels with the “courage, ideas and gritty determination to make things better.”

The recipe for a rebel

There is insight and advice about what makes up a rebel, the value they bring and what makes them tick. These are people who want to be heard for all the right reasons - they get to a point where they realise ‘I have to do something about this’ - and need support to do it.

The authors identify three common rebel tendencies, showing how they think differently from colleagues, which was a huge ‘aha’ moment for me when I think of all the rebels I know:

- They are future thinkers, imagining other alternatives and possibilities

- They tend to work ahead and are often several steps ahead of colleagues

- They are different, often have a different background or culture and so bring different ways of thinking

Just think of the value these folks can bring to organisations in helping drive change and innovation.

Rebels care

Rebels care about their organisation – often more than others. Recognition isn’t a driver for them, but problem-solving and improving the way things are done, are. They care about ideas and making a difference at work more than creating the ‘right impression’. They keep going, even if they get push-back on their ideas – which can be exhausting for colleagues or bosses so they can find themselves side-lined, not listened to or their ideas dismissed without sound evaluation. Which increases their frustration. In my experience, a quiet rebel is not good.

If you learn to work with rebels and harness their passion to help things improve, your organisation will be all the better for it. This means creating the right environment: making it safe for people to speak up when they know something isn’t right; feeling safe to disagree constructively and helping to develop habits that keep the organisation open to continuous change. This will help build organisations where people want to work and attract folks who think differently and strive for change that makes things better.

Finally, if you want to find out more about intrapreneurs, tugboat pilots and BBBs, then read this book. We need more rebels in organisations (and in our wider society), not fewer, to drive change. Let’s allow them to be heard, listen to them, and welcome their ideas.

If you’re a leader, project team lead or communicator who wants your organisation to better prepare for change, understand how to engage rebels and change agents inside your organisation, or you’re a rebel who needs support to ‘keep going’, I’d love to talk.