Be disruptive AND be kind

disrupt warning sign illustration designA large company is going through a cultural transition and is purposefully hiring senior leaders who have a track record of success in being disruptive (meaning: “find ways to change the status quo that isn’t working”). What this means is that the company expects them to take risks, try new things and make change happen. They are very clear that it doesn’t mean that these leaders can be ***holes.

The distinction between “being disruptive” and “being an ***hole” is an important one for leaders, since it would be easy to believe it would be fine to do whatever it takes –  up to and including destroying morale to get done what needs to be done.

The best leaders can move change ahead while still being kind. In fact, we should challenge anyone who states that being an ***hole is synonymous with leading change. In many organizations, the disruptions they want to see in this hyper-competitive world include risk taking, accountability, teamwork, and a focus on people before profit. What are the chances that a leader who is an ogre is going to make these things happen?

Disruption is hard enough for most employees. And when you act like an ***hole, you’ll only make their lives miserable while slowing progress down. You can be a change agent and be kind at the same time while:

Understanding what your team is going through. Change is hard, and people will resist, freeze in place or turn back to the previous ways of doing things. This is pretty common, but you can support them by letting them know you understand what they’re experiencing. Listen and empathize. Hold fast to your expectations, and repeat them as often as possible because (especially in times of change), people hear things when they are ready for them.

Influence rather than push. Sure, you need to hold people accountable to some really tough change work. Pushing them by micromanaging or being demeaning won’t make them work any better or faster. When you influence others by developing relationships with them, walking the talk, and encouraging them, you’ll notice that so much more gets done in the right way than you imagined.

Communicating as much as you can. There are often things that you can’t tell people, but do so as soon as you can and with as much thoughtfulness as possible. During disruptive times, over-communicating should be a given. Don’t withhold information that will ease employee’s fears – it’s better to tell them as soon as you can.

Noticing moments of grace and calling them out. When others are acting “as if” the change has already happened, and when you see glimmers of hope that things will get done on time and within budget, let the people responsible know what you’ve seen. Publicly encourage them as “kind disrupters” should.

Resting: Disruption is difficult, and takes more energy than stability would. You need to take time to rest and renew, and so do those who are working hard to make the changes happen. Be an example of someone who rests when needed and shows renewed energy afterwards. Have a team discussion about the importance of taking vacations and other needed breaks from work.

You were hired to disrupt the status quo, not to be an ***hole while leading the changes that need to happen. Try disrupting with kindness and watch things happen with less resistance and more engagement.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.