Disruptive Leadership

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The 5 principles of disruptive leadership

For many of the organisations we work with avoiding disruption has been the order of the day for as long as most people can remember. The NHS for example. But times have changed. Disruption is the new normal.

With new models of care, using data to create efficient services and improve patient care, and working in partnerships with different providers across the care system – the pressure to innovate and shake up established ways of doing things is now imperative.

If NHS leaders don’t tip their organisations upside down and give them a good shake they’re going to struggle to meet the challenge set down by the Five Year Forward View, perhaps even struggle to survive.

Here’s an Oxford English dictionary definition for you:

Disrupt: Interrupt (an event, activity, or process) by causing a disturbance or problem:

Not what you’d traditionally associate with the qualities of an effective leader. But when you learn that companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Netflix are the gold-stand of disruptive leadership then ears prick up. Disruptive leadership and ground-breaking, awe-inspiring innovation go hand-in-hand.

The Ipod, Iphone, Android, Kindle and Netflix’s video-on-demand are all examples of innovations that have shaken whole industries to the core, changing the face of the existing landscape forever.

These innovations didn’t come about without leaders who weren’t afraid to disrupt the status quo, question everything and relentlessly pursue a new way of doing things. Complacency has to be shown the door.

But it’s not about change for change’s sake – it’s about making the pursuit of change intrinsic to how your organisation operates.

Here are the five principles of dynamic leaders who embrace disruption and instill it into the culture of their entire organisation:

1. Tell the truth

Tell employees about performance issues when your first notice them. Be open when things go wrong.

Not telling the truth and avoiding conflict is the first step on the path to complacent leadership – the opposite of disruption. Disruptive leaders make it their business continually review whether the organisation is being effective and don’t hesitate to say so when it’s not.

The truth may hurt, but it can also be what’s needed to incite action.

2. Be Decisive

If you try to involve too many people in decisions or make decisions by committee then you’ll never be able to be able to move nimbly enough in a shifting landscape.

Disruptive leaders have to be able to make quick decisions and and then tell their teams what they want, when they want it and why. Wait too long to canvas opinions and you lose momentum, miss the moment and are left standing.

This may mean following hunches, trusting instinct and stubbornly sticking to your convictions, even if this leads you down the occasional blind alley – which leads us neatly on to…

3. Embrace uncertainty

The path to innovation that breaks new ground is not a clear and certain one – in fact exactly how you’re going to get there might be very hazy. Get used to it. What’s needed is an understanding that a certain amount of experimentation is essential in order to gain insight, adjust your settings and try again.

You never know if something is going to work until you try it. So take action and adapt your plans as you go based on the learnings you acquire along the way. Disruptive leaders aren’t afraid to roll with the punches.

“You have to be willing to fail, be willing to think long-term, and be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”
Jeff Bezos, Amazon

4. Provide a guiding vision

While you might be OK living with uncertainty – your people may not be. Unless you help them.

Be prepared for the fact that taking an organisation into uncharted territory will be unsettling for many. Most people are far too comfortable where they are, thank you very much.

The key here is inclusion and great communication. You need to involve everyone in your way of thinking by communicating clearly, and in concrete terms, about where you’re heading and how the changes you’re making fit with the organisation’s objectives. Your guiding vision is the glue that holds everything together.

Uncertainty, with a clear destination everyone can strive towards, is far less daunting.

5. Don’t stop rewriting the rules

Disruptive leaders have a healthy skepticism about ‘the way we do things around here’. In a constantly changing world, where new technology is developing at lightning speed you simply can’t afford to get too comfortable.

Encouraging diversity of thought within your organisation and breaking down silos – all things we’ve talked about recently – are part and parcel of re-inventing those rules – both written and unwritten.

To be at the forefront of those changes, not constantly playing catch up, requires never getting complacent or resting on your laurels. As soon as you do that, you risk making yourself obsolete.


If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help you challenge the status quo in your organisation call us on 01883 722008 or email nici@talentgateway.net

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