Unconventional leadership from 5 of the the world’s most innovative ceos

Web.com Team

Sir Richard Branson - Unconventional Leader

It’s not your grandfather’s workforce anymore. Employees aren’t as loyal as they once were and companies are outsourcing to third-party agencies instead of hiring in-house. Forget casual Fridays; in the world of Facebook and Google, employees wear jeans to work, take yoga classes during their lunch breaks, and conduct their business on bean bags. While these are aesthetic changes, they’re also shifts in how modern leaders operate. Check out these five innovative CEOs and their unconventional leadership strategies.

Tony Hsieh: Zappos

Earlier this year, Tony Hseih and Zappos decided there was a major aspect of the company that was holding it back — upper management. In fact, it decided to get rid off all titles, managers, and hierarchy to implement a holacratic organizational structure.

In a holacracy, companies let different employees lead in alternate weeks. Zappos organized its 1,500 employees into more than 400 circles to create a flatter structure.

The benefits of a holacratic structure include:

  • Increased education and leadership. Lower-level employees are given opportunities to lead, training them to take managerial positions when they leave. This also gives them a fuller understanding of the big picture at a company.
  • Better understanding and communication. The normal chain of command usually turns into a game of telephone, and upper management tends to be disconnected from employee processes and workload. A flatter structure helps everyone stay in the know.
  • More accountability. Instead of blaming employees or managers, each employee is in charge of getting his or her work done.

Zappos has decided that the best corporate structure is no corporate structure at all.

Shane Smith: Vice

Vice media has more than 800 employees spanning 34 countries. Nothing about this news outlet is conventional — from traveling to North Korea to recording stories with Google Glass — and CEO Shane Smith is leading the way in the business world with its unique employee structure.

Our world is global. It’s not about finding the best employee in your area; it’s about finding the best employee on Earth. Shane Smith and Vice mostly hire millennials and have employees all over the world.

Shane Smith believes that the future of media isn’t one stuffy newscaster reporting from a desk; it’s having someone reporting on the ground. It’s hearing the voice of the people from their perspective. For example, Americans could follow the lives of Egyptians Tweeting from Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring and get their side of it, instead of only CNN’s view.

Vice is just one example of companies moving global. Telecommuting has risen 79 percent since 2005 and telecommuters makeup almost three percent of the workforce. Companies know that if they want the best talent, they might have to hire someone from across the world. Shane Smith currently has employees in 34 countries. Who knows — in a year, he might have them in 68.

Ryan Carson: Treehouse

Treehouse teaches different code languages and web design. On top of leading the way in online tutorials, Treehouse is also revolutionizing the office. Most recently, Ryan Carson moved his staff to a four-day workweek. His 72 employees work Monday through Thursday and take off Friday through Sunday. This is beneficial for two main reasons:

Talent acquisition: Treehouse doesn’t have to pay what Google offers or what headhunters are reaching out to top talent with because time is money. Most employees are connected 24/7. They check emails on the commute and go home to continue working until midnight. Treehouse is different and gives people their time back by letting them have three-day weekends.

Burnout prevention: Employees move around more because they get burnout from working so much. Signing off for three days brings employees back recharged, making them more productive, which keeps them at the company longer and reduces turnover.

Carson is drawing the best talent because he’s offering something that no one else in the market is.

Jeff Bezos: Amazon

Jeff Bezos was once quoted saying, “All businesses need to be young forever. If your customer base ages with you, you’re Woolworth’s.” This makes a lot of sense and is something Shane Smith of Vice would definitely agree with. However, Jeff Bezos is known for saying less kind things to employees in his no-frills leadership style. Some of his best quotes include:

  • “I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”
  • “Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”
  • “This document was clearly written by the B team. Can someone get me the A team document? I don’t want to waste my time with the B team document.”

While these may sound harsh, his managerial tactics have made him worth $13 billion, and his company is a household name. At the end of the day, it’s better to cut the political correctness and get right to the point or nothing will ever get done.

Richard Branson: Virgin

Richard Branson is our last unconventional leader because he provides the most important lesson: never stop dreaming, even if it means keeping your head in the clouds.

Branson’s head is certainly in the clouds, metaphorically and literally. Founder of Virgin Air, Virgin Mobile, and Virgin Trains — among other brand names — Branson seems to pursue every new project as if he’s in it for the fun instead of the business opportunity. Most recently, his Virgin Galactic space missions were cleared for U.S. take-off, making the Virgin Corporation a leading company in space tourism.

From airlines to hot air ballooning to space, Richard Branson reminds us to have fun in whatever we do. That’s a man to look up to.

While this article could end telling you to follow the ideas of these CEOs if you want to carve out a path to success, the advice would be unwise. All of the businessmen on the list made their way ignoring what everyone else did and pursuing their own path. That needs to be the takeaway of all this: don’t try to mimic others; you’ll only play second fiddle. Carve out your own niche.

Author information

JT Ripton

JT Ripton is a business consultant and freelance writer who enjoys writing about a myriad of topics, including business and technology. You can follow him on Twitter @JTRipton


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