Disruptive Leadership

Some effective leaders could be described as disruptive. But of course, we’re thinking of disruption as a constructive force – challenging the status quo, innovating, committing to lifelong learning and experimentation, being agile, and having the ability to adapt and change. It’s about breaking rules with purpose. Listen as Bill and Ralph discuss disruptive leadership, its value in strengthening teams and organizations, and how you can become a proactive disruptor.


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*Note: The following text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors


Bill Berthel: Welcome to the Get Emergent Podcast, where we discuss leadership, team and organizational topics and best practices. We like to provide ideas, concepts, and pragmatic experiments to help you develop your potential in your work and leadership. I’m Bill Berthel.

Ralph Simone: And I’m Ralph Simone.

Bill Berthel: Ralph, I love today’s topic of disruptive leadership.

Ralph Simone: I love it too because I think it’s been my whole life. Just, we disrupt things because we want to have a better outcome. We wanna have a better process. And, and I think it’s, we need to set the record straight. A leader’s role is to be disruptive. And disruptive is constructive, not destructive, because we wanna, it’s, it’s like breaking things before it’s too late.

Right. It’s reinventing ourselves. It’s, it’s innovating and I think part of the work we do as coaches is we are trying to be a disruptive force by asking people questions to get them to think differently about their current habits of thought and patterns of behavior.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, absolutely. It’s, it’s challenging the status quo.

It is rule breaking with purpose. It’s, I love how you said disruptive. As a constructive force, not disruption in some type of negative way, but it’s really looking at what could be new, what could be possible, what haven’t we stepped into that we’d like to experiment with?

Ralph Simone: What’s constraining in ourselves, you know, we’ve talked about that fish notice water last.

We get immersed into a culture. We get immersed into a particular way of being and it may not be inclusive, it may not be something that takes full advantage of all the resources, and we need somebody to, we talk about this responsibly complaining that’s being disruptive. Asking for something that doesn’t currently exist in the environment so that we can get a better outcome for the organization and for more of the employees.

Bill Berthel: The space of disruptive leadership is similar to disruptive innovation where we see a set of existing variables, whether it’s in a market, there’s certain products, whether that is, there’s certain operating. Ground rules in our organization. There’s certain ways we’re doing things. We’re interested in getting in and tweaking ’em, maybe even breaking ’em to see what could possibly emerge for new purpose.

Ralph Simone: I mean, look at what Musk did with Tesla. Yeah. Regardless of what you think of him as a leader or not. He certainly was disruptive. I mean, he was, the technology was disruptive. He wasn’t able to market and distribute through the normal channels, so he disrupted that channel, right? And what you’re seeing is, you know, sometimes disruption does require somebody to swim upstream, to take some unpopular stances, but look at what it’s done you know, for the company and look at what it’s done for the electric vehicles have taken, gain some momentum from his disruption.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. It’s an interesting lesson to take is that eventually many disruptive efforts become a future norm. We don’t get those norms without somebody previously having challenged or disrupted something. This isn’t a negative thing, this is this.

Ralph Simone: No, no, no. We, we wanna, we wanna disrupt it ourselves before someone else disrupts it for us. And I think one of the things that we at Emergent like leaders to spend more time thinking and having the space to consider what could be a proactive disruption we could make in the market space in the organization so that we attract and retain better people so that we are first or we’re early, at least early into a space that then takes on.

I think it’s a key role of leadership to be a disruptor.

Bill Berthel: Ungrounded assessment is something I’ve noticed about disruptive leaders that I’ve gotten to work with or observe is they’re lifelong learners. They have this insatiable need and want for new information, for multitude of topics. Often they’re interested in many different things.

Often they find creative outlets in those many different things and bringing new combinations together, but they’re constantly asking why something works the way it works, why it isn’t working some other way. They’re learning, learning, learning.

Ralph Simone: Learning in and of itself causes disruption. Could read something that you hadn’t read before.

You read a perspective that you hadn’t heard before. Years ago I was asked by a president of a company who was a company that had been established. It was a hundred years old. Many of the employees were homegrown, and, and he asked, he goes, you know, I wanna disrupt the thinking of the organization without necessarily turning everyone over.

How do we do it? And I said, I think there’s two ways you could do it pretty easily. Getting people to read or learn more. Read or listen more. Yeah. And travel is a tremendous disruptor because we start to go to different places different parts of the world. We see that they do the same things we do, but differently.

The way that they eat, the way that they talk, the way that they vacation, the way that they connect. And that causes us if we have enough space to say, wow, maybe there is a better way. One of the reasons I left one of the big four public accounting and consulting firms is because I thought there was a better way to live and work.

And I wanted to disrupt that system, but I didn’t feel like I was making enough of an impact fast enough so I started my own system. But even in that system, you start to get used to doing things a certain way. That system needs to be disrupted. Because if it’s not disrupted, something from the outside will disrupt it, and perhaps not in a favorable way.

Bill Berthel: And that’s an interesting example of sometimes we need to be the disruptor of our own cycles and our own lives in finding something new and exciting. And I’ve worked with disruptive leaders that maybe were a little bit more on the not so constructive side where I think they just like tearing stuff apart.

But you know, the ones that saw it as constructive. I think they held an understanding that disruption can cause uncertainty within organizations or teams, so they’re focused on that. They don’t back away from disruption because of uncertainty, but they understand that that’s there and they act as a guide in that, you know, sometimes it’s not about getting comfortable cuz it’s gonna be uncomfortable, but they act as a guide in leading in that uncertainty caused by the disruption.

Ralph Simone: I think the disruption or being a disruptor is change management. You know? So a leader as a disruptor has a vision for a future that’s different. So that vision in and of itself is a disruption that leader guides people to become dissatisfied with the status quo. You know, that’s a disruption. That leader guides people on how to take the first steps in that new environment.

And I think leadership is about not only being a disruptor, but guiding people in how to be successful in the new model.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. So what would we encourage leaders to do to take on some more disruptive qualities?

Ralph Simone: Well, you know, this might make you annoying, but I think I would spend part of a day questioning everything you do.

Yeah. Everything you do from the big, significant to the mundane, you know, why do I do it? You know, why do I do it that way? And with this intention of questioning yourself first, being willing to experiment in, disrupt certain habits of thought and patterns of behavior for yourself, and then bring it, you know, what warrants disruption in the organization that would be better for the enterprise long-term.

Bill Berthel: I know you’re familiar with Kaizen events and there’s a process called asking the five whys, right? You ask why five times, not as a petulant, little toddler going, why, why, why, why, but for really seeking for a deeper understanding in why something is set up the way it is, or why a process works the way it does.

Really looking for opportunities to disrupt it, to make it better, right? So it could be asking why at least five times. I love it.

Ralph Simone: It reminds, you know you know, run an experiment like a scientist. Question everything and collect data, right? And experiment long enough. But don’t be afraid to change things up.

Don’t be afraid to be a proactive disruptor because you know, nothing of significance ever happened. Without someone challenging the status quo, whether it was innovative, whether it was around social equality, whether, you know, it doesn’t happen by people saying, oh, okay, right. It happened because people were willing to disrupt.

They were willing to perhaps say or do something that wasn’t quite popular in order to improve things for everyone.

Bill Berthel: Behaving like a scientist really brings up the idea to me that we need to ask others to prove us wrong. The scientific method really begs for other trusted colleagues to shoot holes in our theories.

So our theory, our idea can be stronger, and so we, we need to be able to make those connections, to ask others to prove us wrong.

Ralph Simone: Think about leading with that as a leader, that’s disruptive, that’s disrupting the norm. The norm in many organizations is we’re very careful what we say to or in front of the leader.

He or she may not like that, and I think kind of inviting this to challenge, to ask questions, to really prove me wrong with this theory that I have. Yeah, I love that.

Bill Berthel: Yeah. Well, we know that nothing changes if nothing changes. So we have to act as that change agent in our teams and in our organizations to really create some meaningful disruption.

Ralph Simone: Start small to go big, right? Start small to go big. I think there’s lots of little things, micro disruptions we can make in order to facilitate disruptions on a grander scale.

Bill Berthel: Thanks for listening. You can listen to a new podcast two times every month here at Get Emergent or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Where we bring you contemporary leadership topics and ideas, balanced with what we hope you find are better practices that you can apply to your work and leadership.

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