Communicating to create a cutting-edge culture that yields disruptive innovation may be the biggest challenge you face as a leader. In this post, we detail three critical elements that may be the key to your success.
Murfield Coaching solves significant problems through innovative thinking. We work to magnify your unique value, not replicate what others do. That requires innovative thinking to solve significant problems. Our clients most appreciate our emphasis on building employee engagement, alleviating employee trauma, and unleashing disruptive innovation. Our research shows that innovation occurs most often within a cutting-edge organizational culture.
Those who follow me are aware that I’ve studied communication at the Bachelors’s, Masters and Ph.D. levels. To me, communication is the negotiation of shared meaning, not just “getting my message across.” Communication is a dynamic process between two very different people working to find common ground amidst a world of differences. At its core, communication is a collaborative venture in a very competitive world.
No wonder there are so many misunderstandings and conflicts.
Communicating innovation requires the disruptive leader to cross that divide and help the team to shift paradigms. Together, they are going to do something that is really crazy. They are going to do what others consider “impossible.”
That won’t be easy.
Speaking: Disruptive Story Telling
The disruptive leader has a lofty vision. That vision is often so lofty that many followers initially think it is crazy, insane or simply not smart.
Who dares tell that story? Who dares to have such lofty dreams and then is willing to share that “insanity” with others? To make matters even more challenging, who is crazy enough to think that ordinary followers will think they can play a significant part in disruptive innovation?
Disruptive leaders tell crazy stories about what their team will do. It has a vision of crazy results and crazy expectations. Crazy as it is defined on dictionary.com, is something that doesn’t make sense to the point of being insane.
Disruption will appear crazy, insane, and totally irrational.
After all, who does these things? Who dares to leave the comfort of “civilization” to live in the wilderness? The disruptive leader does. So do those willing to follow that leader in that crazy dream.
That is where disruptive storytelling ramps up the challenge. It challenges every team member to embrace the dream and then accept the challenge to play a significant part. Disruptive storytelling requires crazy participation.
They don’t just play a bit part but a significant role. They are not on the team just to follow along in the shadows but rather are thrust onto center stage.
The disruptive leader is wise to consider how to tell the story in the way so followers willingly play a significant part. That requires conviction, energy, and authenticity.
You have to believe the crazy story can become a reality. If you don’t believe it, they won’t engage.
Your story must have the energy to launch and finish the project. They need to hear that energy in your telling of the story.
Without authenticity, no one will believe your lofty vision or join you in pursuit. Share the lofty vision of what can be done and how everyone involved will benefit. Share as much of the strategy without bogging down in details. Telling the story is to share the hope and reveal the vision. It is the act of engaging your team to learn what everyone can do together and how they will make it happen.
Done right, disruptive storytelling helps them see how the future will be crazy fun.
Done wrong, disruptive storytelling convinces them you are crazy and they need to stay away. It is too big and too risky. Why would they play a part in that craziness?
Hearing the crazy story and embracing the role will create a real challenge for many ordinary team members. That is why disruptive storytelling isn’t just speaking but coming to a shared understanding, i.e. having everyone on the same page, playing out the same story.
That is not easy unless everyone believes they can do it.
Interacting: Managing Conflict
Disruption creates internal and external conflict.
If you don’t believe me, just mention a crazy big idea to your friends and wait for the push back. People are content following. They love to show how something is NOT going to work. Very few people want to challenge the status quo. Instead, most love to predict failure, especially when crazy success makes you look better than they do.
That means the disruptive leader building the cutting-edge team must be preventive and reactive to conflict.
Recently I was directing a play I wrote. I knew the situation. The approach of previous plays was wearing thin with our audience. to continue we would struggle to sell seats and get rave reviews. As someone who tracks the trends and forecasts the opportunities and the threats, I knew we either had to raise our standards and performance or quit. We had to go big or go home. We could not continue with the status quo.
I was exhilarated at the thought of what we could do. So I shared my crazy vision. Initially, each actor voiced their enthusiasm and pledged their commitment. Silly me took their reaction at face value.
It wasn’t long to see passive and active aggression. One actor rewrote her lines without consulting me as director or playwright. The problem was not only a disrespect for me as a leader which will kill any project but that she was changing the story line. To make matters worse, she wouldn’t admit it and claimed ignorance.
I knew about this actor but like many organizational projects, there were reasons why I couldn’t just get rid of her. As much as I knew it would damage the outcome, she was there to stay.
Naturally, if I had my way, I would have chosen an individual who had that collaborative attitude. I knew that belligerence blasts apart cutting-edge cultures. Adam Grant, author of Give & Take, wisely shows that one taker will kill a collaborative project. I knew that when I started but thought that if we did a few things different, she would come around and everything would work out great. I was wrong.
So like the good, disruptive leader that I wanted to be, I sought to offset any future conflict by getting everyone to buy-in. I knew that creating a cutting-edge culture requires that we prepare for conflict. However, I wasn’t prepared for the belligerence that disruptive innovation provokes.
Disruptive Tip: When choosing your team, look for attitude as much as talent.
Belligerence is “a warlike or aggressively hostile nature, condition, or attitude.” (Dictionary.com). It not only says, “I don’t believe in your vision” or “I think it is better doing it my way” but that you are bat crap crazy and I’m going to prove it.
Obviously, THAT is NOT collaboration.
If you sense belligerence in your disruptive team, that team member must go. Remember what Adam Grant said, one taker will ruin the project.
Much of the belligerence you will face as a disruptive leader will be passive-aggressive. They say they believe it but their actions expose their hearts.
In my case, at almost every rehearsal or discussion in the play, she would counter my vision with her own. She was not only disengaged but actively disengaged.
You have the same disengaged employees, they just look different and go by a different name. The attitude is the same.
Why? Why do they push back? In my first book, I detailed 8 reasons why people embrace ordinary instead of the ultimate. Some cannot see the vision while others lack confidence, compelling motivation or conviction. Still, others don’t see how they can participate due to time or energy. Some can’t move forward without seeing the process. Of course, the worst is when a team member doesn’t believe the innovation you are promoting is good, healthy or valuable.
Each of these reasons foster push back. Sometimes you can tell the story in a way that provides more details so they are convinced. But for many of these, the disruptive vision threatens their sense of safety and causes them to create conflict. Understand their fears and tell the story to alleviate their fears.
That is what I should have done from the beginning. The controlling person is fearful. It will be wearing but when you can alleviate their fears, they often join the ranks.
At the same time, some are belligerent because of ego. They have to be in control and things must be done their way. In those cases, you have to get rid of them because it will cease to be your vision. They will chip away until the vision is no longer crazy or good. It will be just another safe project. For any disruptive leader, that is the death of the project. You can counter almost any obstacle but a belligerent ego.
For the rest, we need to listen to their fears and aspirations.
Listening is an exhilarating process. I love the process because it demands that we disconnect so we are open to the best opportunities. I also like listening because it is saturated with compassion. Those that follow me know that compassion is the very best business practice. This is especially true in building a cutting-edge culture.
In the very beginning as disruptive leaders, we listen to the creative muses that provide the innovative ideas. We open ourselves up to what can be instead of what is.
We also quiet our minds as we follow the trends and then look ahead to see where the opportunities will emerge. We lose our preconceived notions and are listening to the world and how it is operating.
Then we listen to our team. Who are they, why are they here and how would they like to be involved? In many ways, at this point, it is not about you as the disruptive leader but about them.
That is what makes for a cutting-edge team. That is where I made my mistake. I had a lofty vision and worked to share it with my team. Ultimately it worked but not to the level I desired. Had I done one of two things, it would have reached that level.
First, I could have brought everyone together and inductively worked to develop a disruptive vision. It would have then been their dream as much as mine. That would have ensured that they were committed.
Second, I needed to listen to them early on, understand their fears, and work individually with them to alleviate their fears. I needed them to know we were having a shared experience, not that I was forcing my experience on them. That is crucial.
Negotiating that shared meaning is a constant challenge at every point in the disruptive innovation. We do that best by setting aside our thoughts and convictions and listening authentically to them, even when we suspect we know the answer.
Listening starts by shutting up, calming our minds, and setting aside our ego.
But make no mistake. We never sacrifice the disruptive vision. We must maintain our ultimate standards. That means we often need to listen for new methods or different approaches.
Disruption brings conflict. The very notion of doing something that no one has ever done before will bring out the critics, even in what you thought were loyal team members. There are several reasons for that conflict that we will discuss in the next few posts on disruptive attitudes, beliefs and values.
In the end, when we quiet our minds and listen to ourselves, our team, and the possibilities in trends, we can build cutting-edge teams that do amazing things.
While this last project didn’t reach the heights that I desired, I stopped and listened, understanding what happened and what role I played. I maintain my lofty vision, even raising it beyond just doing plays to making movies. To do what I want to do, I know what I need to do. I need to tell a compelling story, accept there will be conflict and listen carefully to manage that conflict. I need to speak, interact and listen. In the process, I cannot forfeit my vision.
Now to work on my attitude and the attitude of my team. That is for next week.
Like this blog to develop your cutting-edge attitude.
(c) 2019 Murfield International, Inc.
DO the IMPOSSIBLE!!!
Loren Murfield, Ph.D.
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