Rebel Stories

Steve Radick

Former government consultant now adapting to life as an advertising agency exec in the Windy City.

What has been your most notable rebel accomplishment or experience?

My most notable rebel accomplishment would have to be starting my blog at www.steveradick.com. When I first started the blog back in 2008, my company had a policy that no employee could interact with anyone externally without first obtaining permission from corporate – this included speaking with the media, but it also covered blogs and social networking sites. People were even afraid to create LinkedIn profiles for fear they would run afoul of the rules. Rather than challenging this outdated policy, most people simply complained in their small circles but continued to abide by it. Recognizing that this wasn’t a sustainable practice and that the policy would have to be what changed, not the people, I built a launch plan for the blog and told our corporate folks that I’m launching this blog next week and that they can either be a partner or an adversary. They could either work closely and transparently with me to ensure that I’m adding value and minimizing the risks to the firm, or they can put their heads in the sand.

 

When did you first realize that you are a rebel?

A looonng time ago! Even when I was I was a little kid, I rebelled against the status quo. If my parents asked me to do something and their only reason was “because I said so!” it was a good bet that I’d totally ignore them because of that. I remember two times in particular – once, I was around 11 years old or so and one of my jobs was to cut the grass every week. My parents would give $10 after it was cut. Well, I found out that my buddy down the street would cut grass for $5. So, I told him that if he came over to my house on Saturday morning and cut my grass, I’d pay him $5. For a few months that summer, my parents would pay me $10, I’d give $5 to my buddy, and pocket the rest. I never saw any issue with this – the grass got cut and that’s what they wanted, wasn’t it?

The other telling experience happened at school when a teacher gave me a poor grade for my answer to an essay question. She had told me that my answer didn’t match with what she had taught in class. I made it my personal mission that night to go home and research the question using my own books and came in the next day with sources that backed up my answer. Just because I didn’t come up with the answer she wanted didn’t automatically make mine wrong.

What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?

The biggest piece of advice I wish someone had shared with me is to be yourself and be yourself all the time. Don’t listen to the people who tell you that you have to talk a certain way or dress a certain way to advance your career. Don’t try to be someone you’re not just because you don’t see anyone like you in the levels above you. Understand the unique skills, experience, and characteristics that YOU bring to the table that other people don’t have. Don’t assume that just because you’re a junior level employee that you’re at the bottom of the ladder and you have to go up. Look at it like you’re filling a different role, an important role in the organization. You bring strengths to the table that “senior leaders” don’t – you’re not jaded or cynical, you’re still full of ambition, you’re more likely to take risks, you’re better connected to the rest of the staff, etc. Understand and properly value your strengths.

What is your favorite rebel characteristic?

My propensity to ask, “why not?” “Because it’s a policy” or “Because the boss said so” or “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” aren’t good enough reasons for me.

What’s your favorite question?

Why not? Why can’t we? Why aren’t we?

What one clue tells you you’re effecting positive change?

I think it’s the slow and steady move toward more social interactions at work. I can see it in the day-to-day interactions I see on our Yammer network, over email, and even on our Intranet. People are less formal in their interactions, they’re sharing more honest feedback instead of worrying about making a “career-limiting move,” and they’re connecting with each other based on the value of what they’re saying, not on their location on an org chart.

What do you think it’s most important for people to understand about rebels?

People have to understand that you have to take the good with the bad when it comes to rebels. Rebels offer a lot of benefits to an organization – they’re change agents, they’re leaders, they’re trend-setters, they’re innovative. But, by definition, they’re going to ruffle some feathers, disrupt some long-held beliefs and processes, and most of all, make you uncomfortable. You can’t have one without the other.

What’s your one word piece of advice for rebels?

You’ll have to make a choice. If you’re a good rebel, you’ll likely advance quickly up the ladder. At some point, you’re going to have a sit-down with one of your bosses and you’ll get the talk. They’ll tell you that you’re going to have to start acting like a leader, dressing like a leader, or talking like a leader. You’ll get told that to move up further, you’ll need to adjust your operating style. You’ll be told that you’ll have to understand the internal politics. And you’ll have to make a choice. Do you want to change who you are in an effort to get that next promotion? Or, are you going to stay true to yourself? (for the record, I think staying true to yourself is almost always the best answer – if you do that, you’ll still get promoted sooner or later).

What’s your one word piece of advice for non-rebels?

Understand the balance that has to exist between us rebels and you non-rebels. Don’t write us off as loose cannons. We understand that we can’t be rebels in EVERY situation, and that we need to be pulled back sometimes. At the same time, understand that we’re going to pull you further along than you’re comfortable with – we need each other to be effective.

Where do you think rebels are most needed today?

I think our government is in dire need of rebels. There are way too many things that are done just because that’s the way they’ve always been done. There are too many people willing to accept that the government is filled with red tape and bureaucracy and “that’s just the way it is.” Why??? It doesn’t have to be that way!!!

Who is your favorite rebel from the past 100 years?

I’ve always been a huge Bob Knight fan. Through all of the controversy he’s endured over the years, he’s never backed down from his beliefs. He was always about doing what was best for his student-athletes. Yeah, he was hard on them and many times over the years, he probably did things they didn’t understand at the time, but it’s amazing to look back now and see what those same students say about him now. They might not have always liked playing for him, but they all realized that he had their best interests at heart and they’re better men now because of him.

What’s the one thing you should never say to a rebel?

“Because I said so!”

 

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