Never Mind the Traditional. Here's How to Lead Like a Punk Rocker.
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
Face it: You will never be Jeff Bezos or Larry Page, and you shouldn’t try. You can’t blaze the same trail as those who came before you by adopting a like-minded vision, or mirroring their solutions with slightly new features.
Doing so will not help you achieve the same success; instead, it will merely saturate markets with similar business models and products differentiated only by a logo and a name.
No, to truly make an impact, you have to act against the status quo -- to adopt a punk rocker’s mentality -- and foster unprecedented achievements, both in and outside of business. Bringing a unique perspective to a longstanding problem, like the best leaders of our time, is the only way to achieve revolutionary change.
As someone who himself embodied the “old British punk” lifestyle from an early age -- okay, all I did back then was clandestinely sell candy on my school bus -- I was fortunate to witness the punk rock movement at the time of its inception. I became friends with legends like The Damned, Stray Cats and Guana Batz, and attended more shows than you can count. My interest fostered my M.O. of "sticking it to the man" and finding a completely different way to create better solutions.
And these days I'm not done: Rather. my punk roots go hand in hand with what I do daily; punk is in my DNA, an unchanging part of my entrepreneurial roots and my leadership style.
Not that that's the only way to go against the grain: Outside of the punk scene, I've found entrepreneurs with the same affinity -- a sentiment that lies at the core of their resourcefulness and success. These entrepreneurs are the ones collaborating, tinkering in their garages and delivering a whole new perspective on a tired idea, or else creating completely new ideas to solve big problems. As is the case in music, the conventional is not universally applicable, especially in rapidly expanding industries.
Be authentic; reject the mainstream.
My punk lifestyle is about standing out while still being comfortable in my own skin. I am 100 percent myself, 100 percent of the time. I never try to be the stereotypical CEO or succumb to the behaviors of what I imagine one looks like.
My approach is about telling your story and paving your own path, rather than scripting one based on past leaders’ successes. Although folks would say my passion is sometimes a bit too uninhibited, it's the essence of my leadership, my successes and how I stay authentic. While I still recognize history and past successes, to truly gain a balanced-leadership perspective, I’ve persevered for what I believe in by challenging the mainstream.
This idea should extend to an entire company, not just one leader. In order to have an incredibly innovative start-up, you have to create an environment that supports a “come as you are” culture. It’s about encouraging employees to be themselves (authentic) -- without any need for corporate cloaks or politics. They should be able to openly share their interests, experiences, ideas and knowledge with those around them. When they have this freedom, they thrive, collaborate and do their best work.
In our case, at vArmour, an early-stage data-center security company with new technology, it’s critical that our team selling and representing our product be trustworthy and genuine. Our customers are not just buying our product; they are strategic partners who have become an integral part of our journey. Their success is our success.
Foster the camaraderie and mosh pit mentality.
Moshing (or slam dancing) is all about being in the moment together. At our company, our culture and its guiding principles speak to how we channel tenacity companywide. A few phrases that speak to our all-in grit attitude include: “You’ll never walk alone, but shoulder to shoulder,” “Dig deep” and “It’s our company.” This determination and drive is how we work with one other, our customers, partners and the rest of our community.
The notion of anti-establishment is not just about going along with the crowd or with what the masses are doing. When you see something wrong, speak up and fix it. It’s our responsibility, our company; all of us drive our fate.
This level of workplace camaraderie can’t be achieved without understanding the idea that truly comprises a well-balanced, passionate company: diversity. The punk movement had bands and fans from all backgrounds come together for the love of music and singular experiences. At a startup, it is exactly the same.
You create the best team on the planet, from different backgrounds, and create a great culture to blaze your own trail. The experiences you have with these team members are unmatched and foster camaraderie at the highest levels, as you spend endless hours together working around the clock. The resulting outcome is unexplainable until you experience it yourself -- as a company, you become a part of something that is bigger than yourself. It becomes a movement about a singularly focused group whose mission is to rock the world.
In my youth, punk was a unifying cause for change because the old ways needed to be kicked to the curb, not for the hell of it, but as a genuine way to wake up society and change it for the better. And it’s happening again within the technology industry. Tried and true methods by large companies were great in an industry with incremental changes -- but that’s no longer the case. Small innovative companies are the ones changing the rules and forging a new path to solve big problems.
Today, in security specifically, everything is dynamic, data is everywhere and the cyberattackers are on a new rampage of their own. We have to pivot, forget the status quo and engender new and better ways to meet those attackers head on, to protect our customers.
In the words of Greg Graffin in “A Punk Manifesto”:
“It is easy to assume that if everyone else is doing something, then there is no way to fail if you just go along with it… But the entire human race could fail because of this mentality. Thinking and acting in a direction against the current of popular opinion is critical to human advancement, and a potent manifestation of Punk.”