Disruptive leader

Who’s A Disruptive Leader?

As a child, I was the nuisance one in the middle.  Always asking “why?”  Trust me when I say that it doesn’t win you friends.  Teachers think you’re disrupting the class and challenging their authority.  And I’m sure I wore my parents out.

So it was a surprise and a delight to me when I got to university as a mature student.  They wanted me to analyse, argue and challenge.

In my leadership development career I also discovered that, throughout history, it’s the ‘outsiders’ who change paradigms.

It wasn’t the candle-makers who developed the electric light bulb.  Henry Ford was a farmer’s boy who adapted assembly line technology to create the first mass produced automobile.  And while Kodak staff had developed digital ideas, the market impetus came from elsewhere.  If organisations have processes that work ‘well-enough’, chances are they will make incremental improvements but not introduce radical change.

After all, it’s too disruptive.  Right?

Today we have a term for these people: disruptors; and the good news is, it’s now a compliment.

Listening to General David Petraeus at a leadership conference recently, he mentioned four revolutions in the global economy:

  1. IT
  2. Energy
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Life Sciences

So if you’re working in one of these sectors, the chances are you’re working alongside ‘disruptive’ people.  And if you don’t lead them well, the chances are even higher that they’ll leave.

I was interviewed about my thoughts on disruptive entrepreneurs recently for an article in The Guardian Small Business Network and these are often the people who have left a corporation behind to start up their disruptive venture.

Of course, I totally understand that someone has to deliver ‘business as usual’.  And this comes to the heart of the matter.  If that is someone’s strength, then help them deliver today’s operational needs to the optimum.

But if it’s not their strength.  If someone has the strategic capability, the design vision, or the creativity to innovate, then either find ways to harness that energy or watch them move on.

And every member of the supervisory, management or leadership team needs to understand how to recognise these strengths and how to harness them.

Here’s four tips for leading your disruptors:

  1. Accept them for who they are
    We use the metaphor of filling a jar with pebbles – you may have a few big rocks to start with, but then there are still gaps. So you use a different size pebble.  And then sand.  And if you really want to ‘fill’ the jar, add water. Different skills, strengths, talents and cultures are all part of who we are and what we contribute to the workplace.  Monochrome is an art form, not a practical way of running today’s workplaces.
  2. Listen to them
    Find out what drives, inspires or motivates all your people; not just your disruptors.
  3. Help them devise their career plan
    So that you and they can see themselves still productively contributing to your organisation in the years ahead.
  4. Observe where and how they are most creative and productive.
    Find ways to optimise peoples’ creativity and productivity – in ways that support delivery today, and innovation tomorrow.
  5. Create working environments for disruptors
    Some companies provide ‘personal project time’, so that ideas can be worked on without the day-to-day interruptions. Others provide creative working environments – where groups can innovate and critique new ideas.

At the Forton Group we help leaders to think differently, build their communication and coaching skills, and lead people more effectively.  From the bottom to the top of the organisations, we believe there’s a wealth of untapped leadership talent, ready to be unlocked in your organisation, to the benefit of your bottom line.  They may be the stabilisers, or the disruptors and it’s the leaders job to support their success today, to bring more success to the organisation tomorrow.

If you’d like to know more, contact me at helen.caton@thefortongroup.com.

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