The Pros and Cons of a Disruptive Leader

“Change is inevitable, and the disruption it causes often brings inconvenience and opportunity.” In this episode, I reflect on my self-diagnosis of being a disruptive leader. Change can be good, but remain cautious on your approach else you’ll be so far away from leading your team that you’ll be by yourself.

The Cons

Don’t introduce too much change at once, it could be overwhelming – One concern is that your energy and perspective may be misinterpreted for nefarious purposes. While “nefarious” is a strong word, it’s important to consider the potential consequences. For instance, if you’re new to an organization or dealing with a problem, and you find yourself involved in a new project or leading an important task, you may start noticing concerning things. As a result, you might quickly generate ideas and want to take immediate action. This kind of disruptive behavior can sometimes yield faster results, which might seem appealing. However, there is a risk that as you move rapidly, others may not fully comprehend your original vision. They might grasp only a portion of what you’re saying, around 40%, but miss the vital 60% that’s crucial to the initiative. It’s not entirely their fault; they’re simply motivated and eager to move forward like you are, causing them to overlook important details. That’s why it’s crucial to write down your ideas, especially during this season or the past year when you’ve been forgetful. Write down your thoughts consistently. It’s like a drill to help you condense your thoughts and communicate concisely, enabling others to quickly understand your intentions. This approach leaves no room for interpretation. While a disruptive leader may have the right ideas, failure to articulate them properly and ensure team unity can lead to negative disruption. Moving too fast without documenting your ideas can introduce chaos instead of positive change. Therefore, it’s important to avoid this pitfall. While disruptive leaders typically have good intentions, their execution can be problematic. Moving at such a rapid pace can leave teammates struggling to keep up due to their excitement and motivation. Taking the time to write down your thoughts allows them to be tested and refined. It’s important to acknowledge that your plans may not survive when faced with reality, as there may be factors you haven’t considered. Despite your eagerness to move forward, it’s essential to ground your progress in reality. The speed of a disruptive leader can be misleading, so it’s crucial to be mindful of your actions.

Too much change can be exhausting – Another downside of being a disruptive leader is the concept of change fatigue. This refers to the difficulty faced by a team when they are bombarded with numerous new initiatives. If you introduce too many changes at once, it becomes challenging for them to keep up with everything you’re implementing. Personally, I find it increasingly difficult to multitask as I grow older. I tend to become a single-threaded leader, focusing solely on one problem. By dedicating all my energy to that specific issue, I can deliver a high-quality outcome. However, when you spread your energy too thin due to your positive influence on the organization (despite the well-intentioned execution becoming problematic), it can overwhelm the team. They become unable to concentrate on any particular task because so many things are changing simultaneously. As a result, progress becomes hindered, and the team struggles to adapt and become comfortable with the constant flux. If your speed surpasses the team’s ability to keep up, it’s not advisable as a leader. It is essential to ensure that your team stays in sync with you. They should provide you with guidance and boundaries, signaling the parameters in which they can operate. It may be necessary for the leader to push them outside their comfort zone and challenge their preconceived notions about what they can or cannot achieve. These are valid points for a disruptive leader: offering reassurance and granting permission for necessary changes. However, it remains important to exercise caution when introducing too much change, as the team may experience change fatigue. This can lead to a lack of progress and have a detrimental effect on the team’s performance.

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The Pros

Break down legacy barriers – One of the most evident aspects of being a disruptive leader is breaking down outdated and unnecessary established habits. It’s frustrating when senior leaders ask why things are done in a particular way, and the response is, “That’s just how we’ve always done it.” An answer like that signifies a lack of critical thinking and reliance on autopilot mode. As a disruptive leader, your energy is essential in challenging and changing these outdated practices that others may not even notice. Many individuals mistakenly believe that as long as they are not being reprimanded, they are doing a good job. However, this perspective is inadequate and lacks a sense of responsibility. It’s crucial to seek feedback, both positive and negative actively. While positive feedback is certainly preferable, negative feedback should not be taken personally. It requires managing emotions and understanding that dissatisfaction expressed by others may contain valuable insights and opportunities for positive change. As a disruptive leader, you should remain open to these ideas and embrace the notion that it’s okay to pursue different approaches. By seizing these opportunities, you can advance progress and explore new possibilities.

More than likely someone else shares your same thought, yet isn’t comfortable speaking up – Another crucial aspect of being a disruptive leader is recognizing that the ideas you bring up are likely not unique to you alone. There are probably others within the organization who have already been thinking or talking about them for some time. In other words, you have existing buy-in from a subset of people in your organization. It’s important to leverage this shared energy to your advantage. If you hold a leadership position, you can set the conditions for these good ideas and facilitate organizational change. Empower those individuals and remove any obstacles that may hinder the implementation of their ideas. Work together as a team, addressing the problem areas while keeping the momentum moving forward. This collaborative approach to disruptive change can yield positive results. It’s essential to recognize that ideas, like trends, often come around cyclically. Many problems have been encountered before, and while the solutions may appear different, the underlying principles likely align. Learning from past lessons and applying them prevents the repetition of past mistakes. Utilize your disruptive energy for the greater good, as that is what people are seeking. This week, I’ve been reflecting on my role as a self-diagnosed disruptive leader. It’s crucial to ensure that my intentions align with positive outcomes and that my execution is effective. Sometimes, this may require slowing down. One of my former teammates aptly advised me to hold back on the metaphorical “beer” in my hand and allow the rest of the team to contribute to building the most optimal solution. By doing so, we can progress together as a cohesive team rather than rushing ahead solo like the famous “Leroy Jenkins” meme.

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