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Don't Fire That Disruptor Just Yet! They May Be An MVP.

Some people in a culture are consistently the most likely to push against your initiatives as you roll them out. On the other hand, other types of people could rally to your side – they just may not be obvious allies at first.

Let me give you a perfect example of the latter.

In one of the stops along the way in my career, I was asked to assume a Controller-type role at a company. My manager was actually someone I’d worked with in the past. Thanks to that relationship and a good track record I’d had, it looked like a terrific fit.

That is, until I learned about one of the other people I’d be closely managing.

This individual was a fellow we’ll call Rick. Rick wasn’t just a person you’d describe as “a handful.” He was a career-limiting nightmare in every sense. You didn’t know what was going to come out Rick’s mouth next, when he was going to say it and how. The immaturity level of Rick was off the charts.

However, if I wanted to take this job…I had to work with Rick. There was no getting around it. What horrors would be in store for me?

As it turned out, Rick was probably the best person to have hired because he was so out-of-the-box for what his responsibility called for. He got bored with routine concepts, bristling at them. Consequently, Rick also had fabulous ideas. We did some of our very best work as a team when Rick was around because he could challenge our team to take our ideas up a notch.

Rick wasn’t a pain after all. What he was, in actuality, was a Disruptor.

At first glance, Disruptors may not seem like they fit in. In some ways, they don’t. Rick rubbed people the wrong way all the time. Yet, in the right role in the right department working with the right people, Disruptors can thrive.

It’s easy to mistake the Ricks of the world as a poor fit for the company. But when they shake things up in a positive way, those may be people whose instincts are good for the purpose of pushing the envelope. This may call for them to be encouraged and nurtured rather than feared and despised.

So they don’t “go with the flow” like everybody else. Is that automatically bad? Not necessarily if the situation is right. Mind you, there were times when Rick never knew when to stop trying to challenge his co-workers and he could come off as abrasive and insensitive. But that’s also when a Disrupter needs to be controlled and managed.

How do you manage a Disruptor?

I’ve made it a habit not to look at performance reviews, particularly when starting any new relationship, because I don’t want such reviews to color my opinion of someone. Instead, I recommend having a sit down meeting that’s candid.

When I first started working with Rick, I wasn’t afraid to be brutally honest to his face in a sit-down meeting. It sounded like this:

“Look, Rick. You’re really giving people some issues. They’re saying certain things about you that I have to share because, frankly, it’s not just one person saying it. So I want to help us figure out how you can better work with them. I can’t afford you continuing to do what myself and others have seen you do. I also want to know – how are you and I going to work together? I want to talk about my personal concerns with you and how both of us can work to make our boss successful.”

However, you can’t solely drive the agenda. Rather, it’s just the opposite. Give this a try – every week or every other week, you set a meeting with the Disruptor. But tell them that you want them to bring the agenda to the meeting.

Suddenly, that reversal of agenda setting totally changes not only the dynamic but the person’s “buy-in” as well. It becomes their meeting and that’s a good thing. Guide them with questions if you like such as:

  • What do you want to tell me about?

  • What’s going on in our department and what should I know about?

  • What happened this week that you’re proud of?

  • What didn’t go as well as you would’ve liked?

  • Where do you need my help?

When I asked them to bring the agenda, 95% or more of the people I asked brought such a list. All I was trying to do was stay aware of what was going on in the organization because, after all, I was getting those questions from the leaders above mw.

By encouraging their input, the Disruptor may be far more likely to embrace your structure and your initiatives. So give them some ownership and responsibility for being the true contributor they’ve wanted to be.

I’d call that a remarkable turn of events considering many others in the company would’ve shown this person the door.

Can you have too many Disruptors?

In a word: Yes.

A company full of Disruptors would probably breed pure chaos. Fortunately, when you get a firm handle on which employees are genuinely behind you and which ones are only acting like it, the best allies to help you enact change in the organization will reveal themselves. This is part of how Value Drivers, working with your Board of Directors during the CEO onboarding process, is Setting Leaders Up For Success.

To learn more, call Value Drivers today at 312.827.2643 or email or click here to arrange a 30-minute consultation.

Look for Lee Eisenstaedt’s forthcoming book, “Being A Leader With Courage: How To Succeed In Your New C-Level Position In 18 Months Or Less.”


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