Have you ever been told to turn it down a notch? To back down or chill out? To be less loud, less daring, less weird? Have you ever been worried you’re too much to handle or that you come across as a tad full on? Have you ever been called intense, obsessed or rebellious?
In a world mired in conformity, standing out makes you a target. Most people just want to keep their head down and be part of the herd, so those who dare to be different often find themselves on the receiving end of disapproval, even punishment. Schooling teaches us to stay in line. Social media stomps on anyone who expresses an unpopular opinion. Managers flag personality quirks as weaknesses and advise you to “work on them” in performance reviews. After a while, even if you have brilliant visions of the future and the execution to match, it can become tempting to keep your head down and your dreams small.
But what if those perceived weaknesses were actually your biggest source of strength? What if the qualities that seem provocative are really your superpowers? That’s what Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger think, and in their book RARE BREED: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different, they make the case that the world’s oddballs, mavericks and troublemakers are often its creative geniuses and change agents. As founders of leadership and brand consultancy, Motto, that has worked with brands including Virgin, Google, Microsoft, Hershey’s and Twentieth Century Fox, Bonnell and Hansberger put forward that such weaknesses should be celebrated, and that entrepreneurial geniuses tend to be the ones who don’t fit in and aren’t afraid to stand up and speak their minds.
Bonnell and Hansberger call these people Rare Breeds. The duo says that thinking with a rare breed mindset enables entrepreneurs to demand more of themselves, their careers, and their companies. I interviewed Bonnell about the seven rare breed virtues often considered vices.
The rebellious kids in school often found themselves in detention. They were reprimanded for disturbing others, labelled as difficult and their prospects were limited because they couldn’t sit still, be quiet or follow instructions. In business, however, a rebellious streak can be a huge advantage.
“Rebel leaders have zero tolerance for ‘we’ve always done it this way’ thinking,” explained Bonnell. “They push against authority, precedent, and tradition. They hurl themselves against the walls of business-as-usual to see what breaks and they hold the key to innovation.” Rebels question and test with no regard for ego, leading to the breakthroughs that others miss.
Cheeky, cocky, above their station. Audacity can be synonymous with arrogance, not an endearing trait for winning friends and influencing people. But Bonnell says it’s a key tool in the entrepreneur’s toolbox, held by rare breeds, who are “brimming over with nerve and audacity.”
This unashamed audacity means they “see realities other people can’t see. They have the sense that they have capabilities others lack and they’ll gleefully dare the impossible, especially if you tell them it’s impossible.” Daring to attempt the impossible is what separates those who create the future from those who are surprised by it.
Not only is obsessed a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated, but the term is also synonymous with entrepreneurs who go on to be successful. Obsession is a badge of honour they wear with pride, not something to be embarrassed by.
According to Bonnell, obsessed rare breed entrepreneurs “are the ones all-in, always on, 24/7” and it shows in everything they do, whether it’s “practicing pitch lines in the shower, scribbling equations on the walls of the shower, or agonizing over punctuation.” This obsession, over time, leads to greatness.
Villains in movies are hot-blooded. The phrase is usually associated with violence, anger and a lack of control. But for rare breed entrepreneurs, explains Bonnell, this trait can work in their favour. Hot blooded individuals have “passions that run so deep nothing else matters. They’re activists, champions, avengers, and people you don’t want to cross.”
No one sleepwalked their way to changing the world. No one passively made a huge difference. No one reached new heights with zero effort. Hot-bloodedness, a hunger for more and being raring to go, when channelled in the right way, can be a resounding advantage. How are you using your drive?
Throughout schooling, being labelled as weird was social suicide. Weird was not the goal, mainstream was. Popular, universally liked, with plenty of friends. Weirdness meant eating alone, being picked last and having no date for prom.
In entrepreneurship, however, weird is desirable. According to Bonnell, weird rare breeds are often “unapologetic oddballs who hang out at maker fairs and comic cons. They see the world from odd angles and through strange filters, they think around corners and make ridiculous intuitive leaps.” They don’t care about fitting in and being normal, they feel lonely in crowds but at home with fellow geeks. Geeky and weird are the new cool, but not all are confident enough to embrace their quirks.
Intense and severe with a penetrating gaze sounds more like a scary headmaster than an inspirational entrepreneur. Whilst leaders might wish to seem relaxed, friendly and in touch with reality, the best can apply their hypnotic charm.
Many great entrepreneurs were said to be hypnotic in their approach. Steve Jobs had his “reality distortion field,” which convinced his team to achieve the impossible on many occasions. Whilst this can be interpreted as manipulative, it wasn’t intentional. His unwavering passion made hypnosis inevitable. Bonnell said hypnotic rare breed entrepreneurs often have “disconcerting levels of charisma” and “find it easy to sway and spellbind others up to—and sometimes, beyond—the point of manipulation.” Leaning into your hypnotic powers might bring your team to your level of certainty in your cause.
Emotional, in business, has connotations of irrational and unreasonable. If you argue with your heart, you lose your head. Remaining cool, calm and collected in the boardroom is seen as desirable. Losing your temper, crying at work or being affected by news are weaknesses to be strengthened.
Bonnell puts forward that wearing their heart on their sleeve could be an entrepreneur’s hidden strength. Leaders who “weep at everyone’s pain but also find joy in the small things” might unlock new ways of amassing a tribe, inspiring a team and creating a culture of openness. Emotion, empathy and vulnerability could be the source of leaps forward in your business.
Navigating your notorious personality traits can lead to incredible breakthroughs and triumphs in business and in life. Reframing your weaknesses as strengths might be the source of unlimited success and the happiness you didn’t know was possible.