ANTICIPATING DISRUpTion: THREE leadership QUALITIES
It’s pretty clear that we’re living in an age of disruption. As a leader you can take a defensive approach, or you can anticipate and lead on the change needed to thrive in this new age. You can be a ‘Leader Disrupted’ or a ‘Disruptive Leader’. The purpose of (good) coaching is to lead you from one to the other.
‘Disruption’ is well on the way to becoming a floating signifier. The term was harnessed early on by Clayton Christensen to denote a specific change in business processes – the ‘disruptive innovation’ that currently dominates boardroom conversations about the future. Not to detract from his ideas, I quite like the humble old dictionary version – ‘an intervention that causes something to be unable to continue in the normal way’.
The reason I like this simple definition is that we’re all operating in a dizzying world where the lines of the ‘new normal’ are being constantly redrawn, regardless of specific disruptive innovations. Here I want to quote my colleague Mark Van Den Boogaart, who defines disruption in this way:
“Disruption is the power that rolls straight over the status quo on its way to tomorrow”
As a leader you have the choice of leading on disruption and being ‘leader as disruptor’, … or, frankly, being rolled over. Change is like a runaway horse: you need to stay on top! All this applies to me too. The coaching industry is not immune to disruption. One of the latest disruptive shifts for us is the advent of remote and virtual coaching, enabled by digital technology. We’ve seized this as an opportunity, developing Coachlive. But that story is for another time.
How you can become a disruptive leader
Becoming a leader who seizes on the opportunities in disruption is not necessarily easy. It involves changing the way you think, what you do, and how you take your people with you.
I have talked recently about some of the surprising skillsets of ‘disruptive leadership’ in How Leaders Respond to Disruption, but here I want to mention just three fundamental capabilities that I see as being key to leader-as-disruptor.
Three strategies to anticipate disruption
This is about field intelligence. As leader you need to know what’s out there on the horizon. How can you do this? Go to conferences and seminars, the ones that are future-focused not compliance focused. We’re talking Dark Mofo not Past Masters. Talk to the young people in your company – the digital natives. Join groups, once again the futurists not the guardians of the status quo. And desktop search – do or delegate this one. Keep your radar on at all times.
Become a change leader
‘Disruption’ seems to have edged out ‘change’ in the business lexicon, but really, it’s all about change. A disruptive leader needs to be a change leader, thriving in uncertainty and complexity, embracing of risk and fast fails, inspiring an innovation culture and being open to learning for yourself and the organisation.
Involve your people
You will have natural disruptors in your teams, as well as digital natives from whom you can learn. Talk to these people. However it’s not all about collaboration. Trust and safety comes from strong leadership – I write about this elsewhere.
Get a disruptive coach
One of the great things about being a leadership coach is that I get to be a disruptor, aka change agent, every day! My clients come to me because they want change, for themselves and/or the organisation – that’s our contract. If I didn't disrupt mental and relational frameworks I wouldn't be doing my job.
Working together on disruption and change
A leader I worked with moved to a new organisation and inherited a very staid and ‘steady as she goes’ culture... this was not workable because the organisation was losing market share and going backwards. Peter had to put together a revolution of sorts with a totally new structure to shake the current leadership team out of their complacency. To have an evolution strategy would have never gotten them to their goal in time to stay financially viable.
Peter’s entry into the organisation was the catalyst for change, and he had a small window to disrupt the status quo before he was ‘captured’ by the current culture... my role as coach was to work with him through the urgency of the change window. I supported him in scanning the environment and envisioning what this disruption would look like, addressing challenges, identifying opportunities, particularly in the form of supporters and champions within the organisation, moving things forward and generally staying sane. It was an exciting and rewarding time for both of us.
I think that a good coach challenges the mindsets that keep people from moving forward, and a good leadership coach supports people in developing the leadership capabilities needed to steer their organisations through change or disruption – call it what you will.