Picture a giant ocean-going vessel…it can help people accomplish amazing amounts of work in a single voyage. It can seem powerful, unstoppable, never tiring as it moves cargo in dogged pursuit of its goal. In calm water, the ship can be run at high speed, covering hundreds of miles every day. However, when you turn around and look behind the ship…the calm water is turned into a hissing froth of bubbles, waves, ripples and even debris. What was calm is now in chaos. What was smooth is now disrupted.
Are you a supertanker leader? Do you plow through your organization, spreading chaos and debris in your wake? Do you disrupt the normally calm flow? Is this bad? No, not always. If used at the right time, being a disruptive leader can be beneficial to an organization, but it must be a conscious decision.
Being aware of your emotions, managing your reactions and choosing a course of action is a skill mastered by those with high emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman writes of this in his book Emotional Intelligence and quotes Aristotle, “ ‘Anyone can become angry – that’s easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy’ ”.
A supertanker leader is one who pushes aside the normal procedures and looks at a problem from a completely different perspective. He chooses to embrace the discomfort of change and reacts by pushing through that discomfort towards a goal on the other side. The disruption in the organization causes ripples that spread behind the leader and force change rapidly to compensate for the imbalance.
When to use it
When an organization is in need of rapid change, it sometimes takes a significant disruption in the status quo to make it happen. The normally, sometimes glacially slow rate of change in organizations may prevent the leader from taking advantage of fleeting opportunities or changing environments.
A disruptive leader doesn’t react to change, he becomes change. Scott Yorkovich, a leadership coach, wrote in his article Disruptive Leadership, “The most effective leaders actually create change in the organization and may even influence the environment as a result.”
As a commander in a military unit, I used disruptive leadership to make a significant change. I moved a section of the unit to another organization with which it was more aligned, thus doing greater good for the overall Air Force. The wake I left by making that change caused a few overturned boats, but my unit quickly adjusted to the change and moved forward.
Don’t abuse it
A supertanker leader can be a detriment to an organization if he is disruptive all the time. Once a leader makes a decision to cause a disruption to force a rapid change, he should do it and then be done. The organization needs time to adjust to the ripples caused by the disruption in the system.
A leader who is plowing through an organization may be able to accomplish large amounts of work, but it is at the expense of long-term success. In my unit, we have an individual who moves mountains, but he continually leaves a wide wake and does not give time for adjustment before plowing through once again. This leaves his team reeling and unable to focus on getting the job done. Ultimately, productivity suffers.
John Goh, author of Why Disruptive Leadership, summed up disruptive leadership well, “Disruptive leadership is about being solution driven with a totally fresh approach and challenging the current norm.” As a leader, if your organization is in need of rapid change, consider disrupting the calm flow of your team. Try viewing the problem from a different angle and stepping out in a new direction. If you do it well, you are likely to find your team waterskiing in your wake!