Wing Nuts and Cultural Contribution



Key Point: “You’re a bunch of extraordinary leaders and wing nuts.” That was the comment from a leader in the community I was having breakfast with the other day. She was commenting on the success we’ve had growing a phenomenal culture at ATB Financial. Her view is that members of the senior leadership were individually a bit odd; certainly the CEO and me, if not the rest. I took that as a compliment. It got me thinking about the paradox of being alike, yet different.

Wharton’s top leadership thinker, and best selling author, Adam Grant, notes the following:

Hiring like-minded employees can be unifying and motivating for a startup powered by the momentum of its first, disruptive idea. But a growing body of evidence questions that approach for scaling companies, says Grant. ‘Culture fit’ becomes a proxy for non-boat-rockers whom everyone likes, and feels comfortable around. That way, stagnation lies. Grant prefers ‘cultural contribution.’ ‘Instead of asking, ‘does this person fit our culture?’’ he says, ‘We should be asking, ‘What is missing from our culture, and is this person going to enrich it?’”

I agree with Professor Grant. We do need boat-rockers and people that make us think differently. In my view, I want people to be alike on core values like self-accountability, respect and abundance. However, I also want people who challenge the heck of out of me and others. I consider myself to be a respectful challenger, and yes, a bit of a wing nut. And I hope that makes all of us better.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. When you add to your team or organization, give more serious consideration to cultural contribution. What’s missing? How might this next person enrich it? Consciously seek out the diversity they might bring.
  2. Celebrate your constructive wing nuts. You might even be one.

Wing Nuts in Personal Leadership,


One Millennial View: I’ve certainly heard the theory that commonly makes its way into informal conversation: “There’s something a little ‘off’ about CEOs, political leaders, etc.” Some people suspect Elon Musk isn’t even from this planet. Personally, I do not view this as a negative adjective or descriptor. Various cynics even like to attribute high levels of success to stages of narcissism and autism. Who knows? There might be pieces of truth in all of that. But as Millennials, why would we say this? To me, it sounds like an excuse. Is it because we have big hills to climb and it’s easier to preemptively decide we can’t than put in the work (and possibly fail)? We can seemingly comment “#Goals” when we see a desirable achievement on Instagram, but then what? Rationalize that they must be a psycho for putting too much effort into work, appearance, relationships, etc? I sure hope I can rock the boat by being a wing nut, and I care way more for that idea than joining any like-minded group that cares not to try. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis