6 Unconventional Leadership Principles to Adopt in 2023

Innovation may require some out-of-the-box thinking, so here are six unconventional leadership principles for improving the mindset of teams.

At some point in their careers, half of all employees leave their jobs to get away from a bad boss. Oftentimes, business owners need to employ unconventional leadership principles to fix their “revolving door” problem.

This all-too-common situation begs a couple of questions.

First, what makes these managers unlikeable? There are obvious pitfalls to avoid when you’re trying to build a strong team mentality and reduce employee turnover.

  • Micromanagement quashes creative freedom and throttles a self-starter mentality.
  • Hypocrisy — “Do as I say, not as I do” — causes resentment and kills loyalty.
  • Politics and nepotism remove performance-based incentives.

Perhaps more importantly, how can leaders develop their own style to build strong teams? How can they reduce turnover, and make a lasting impact? This strategy may require some out-of-the-box thinking. Accordingly, here are six unconventional leadership principles you can use to change mindsets, revitalize teams, and enhance the company’s legacy.

1. Rewire your brain.

The first step to leading in unconventional ways is to get out of any ruts in your own brain.

If someone walked into your office and asked why you do things the way you do, what would your answer be? If your answer would be, “That’s how we’ve always done it,” or “That’s the way I saw so-and-so do it,” then you probably need to evaluate your thought patterns.

2. Leverage the power of neuroscience and music.

Anyone who has ever shed a tear, fallen in love, or plotted revenge while listening to a song will confirm it. They can tell you what a deep emotional impact music has on human hearts.

Executive coaching expert and lawyer Susan Drumm, founder and CEO of Meritage Leadership, taps into this emotional potential with her clients. Her recently released book, The Leader’s Playlist: Unleash the Power of Music and Neuroscience to Transform Your Leadership and Your Life, further explains this concept.

Drumm uses the power of music to teach leaders how to build strategic playlists that will encourage and uplift their moods, thus uplifting their teams. She also takes a more figurative approach, teaching leaders to identify old “playlists,” or untrue stories they’ve been telling themselves — “I don’t belong here,” or “No one understands me,” etc. She then helps them rewire those neural pathways in positive ways.

3. Change up your team structure.

If things are getting stale, or you’re not hitting goals, or your people are bored, consider shaking up your team structure.

This doesn’t mean you have to jump to a holacracy, but it does mean that maybe you could use some of your employees in different roles. Try to assign tasks that fit employee strengths—and be savvy enough to recognize when changes need to be made.

This can be tricky, if you’ve conditioned yourself to see a certain person in a certain role. It can also be tempting to change things up for the sake of change, which isn’t always an efficient use of resources. However, you may be able to find ways for your people to expand beyond their current roles, enjoy their work even more, and leave a lasting impact on your business.

4. Offer employee-led flexibility.

Remember getting that first taste of real freedom as a young adult?

It doesn’t matter whether it was in the form of keys to an old car or getting told that your curfew was a thing of the past. Whatever defined “freedom” for you, it was empowering to be trusted by an authority figure.

While you don’t want to go around acting like your employee’s parents, there’s a lesson to be learned from good parenting when it comes to good management. You want to give your employees enough instruction so they understand expectations, but not so much that it suffocates them. Points 5 and 6  provide examples of enhanced employee-led flexibility.

5. “Rule Number 1: Don’t make us make a rule.”

Some employers tell their employees that the first rule is to not ruin the freedom for everyone. “Don’t make us make a rule.”

This unusual office policy can influence employees to hold one another accountable. Employees — not managers — enforce showing up on time, using office resources responsibly, and completing work on time.

If, on the other hand, an employer tells a coworker that he or she needs a hall pass to use the restroom, that person might start looking for other jobs. Unless someone is severely abusing office policies, handle these restrictions with care.

In addition, now that employees at many companies have experienced working from home for a couple years, they’re highly cognizant of rules that don’t actually make sense.

If you’re evaluating policies for your own team, ask yourself:

  • What is the deeper purpose here?
  • Will this truly impact our team’s happiness and mental health, our productivity, and our bottom line?
  • Or is it based on optics and vanity metrics?

Being honest with yourself — and asking your employees’ opinions — will help you lead from a place of purpose.

6. Consider unlimited PTO.

Unlimited PTO is hotly debated policy. Does it prevent burnout? Does it mean that people never actually take time off? Will unlimited PTO lead to inequality in time off?

While it does have its issues, it can also be an attractive benefit, especially for expecting parents, globe trotters, and…well…everyone who likes to rest and play.

Even if you don’t implement unlimited PTO, considering this kind of unconventional leadership principle can be a helpful exercise in creativity.

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