If you’ve ever heard someone described as “disruptive,” it probably had a negative connotation — particularly within the past five years. Today, disruptive leadership is viewed by many as a positive kind of leadership that can keep your organization moving forward. Disruptions may be uncomfortable, but a team that has grown too comfortable often loses its competitive and innovative edge. Disruptive leadership helps to keep an organization on the cutting edge; it prevents complacency and challenges outdated ideas. If you want to be the best leader you can, you want to be a disruptive leader.
Disruptive leaders utilize disruptive thinking — thinking that breaks away from established patterns and habits — in their style of leadership. Disruptive thinking is necessary to innovation. Without it, it’s impossible to come up with new ideas that set you apart from the competition.
As a disruptive leader, it’s your job to prevent your team from becoming complacent. When the same old routine just isn’t cutting it anymore, it’s your role to step in and push for improvement. Disruptive leadership doesn’t mean creating change for the sake of change. It means keeping a sharp eye out for areas that are starting to lag in energy and innovation. Eliminate complacency in both yourself and your team to keep things moving forward.
Welcome change. Particularly in large organizations, it becomes too easy for routine and the status quo to be considered ideal. People know what works, and then want to keep doing what they’re familiar with. Unfortunately, maintaining the status quo can lead to stagnation. You stop coming up with new ideas, stop working on improving, and before you know it, you’re falling behind the competition. To be successful as a disruptive leader, you need to embrace change, even when it can be intimidating.
Stay curious. Being an effective disruptive leader is also about being creative and curious. You need to look for new ways your team can improve or your organization can move forward. In a presentation for SHRM, professor Luke Williams said, “The richest areas [for innovation] are in the seemingly unbroken — where absolutely nothing seems wrong. … Pay attention to what’s not obvious.” Feed your curiosity in whatever way works best for you: keep a journal, read broadly within and outside of your industry, or meditate. The most important thing is to open yourself up to new ideas, and encourage creativity from others on your team.
Be honest. It’s natural to want to avoid confrontations and keep your feedback positive, but this can lead to long-term problems. Instead, be honest, especially when that means confronting things you aren’t happy with. When you feel your team is heading in the wrong direction, or if one of your employees isn’t performing at a satisfactory level, speak up. It can feel bad to confront someone, but your team members will respect you for being upfront and honest with them. Remember that it’s always better to confront an issue when it first arises than to deal with it after it’s had time to develop. You don’t want to blindside an employee by criticizing something they’ve been doing without complaint for six months. Instead, bring it up the first time you notice something wrong. This will disrupt the problem immediately and help to keep your team moving forward. Confrontations may not be pleasant, but your employees will learn to appreciate your honesty.
Empower others. Being a disruptive leader isn’t about micromanaging. Sometimes the best thing a strong leader can do is empower others to lead for themselves. The first way to do this is to welcome and then respect contributions from others on your team. If you encourage experimentation, you’ll find that new ideas start to flow more easily. Then, empower your employees to take charge. If someone comes up with a great idea, consider letting them take the lead on the project. Give them some space as you allow your team members to work on new ideas. This will make them feel respected and trusted, and their performance will improve as a result. Better yet, this kind of empowerment encourages further creative thinking and innovation. Soon, you may have a team full of disruptive leaders.