How to Be a Strong Leader in Disruptive Times by Charlene Li

Apr 17, 2020 3:33:05 PM By Phil Vuollet

Taming chaos and handling disruption takes courage. Disruption comes when we don’t feel in control, when we’re unsure about the future, and when stability is shaken. However, we can see disruption as an opportunity to lead change.

In “How to Be a Strong Leader in Disruptive Times,” Charlene Li, author of The Disruption Mindset, offers advice on how to recognize your disruption quota and leadership style. She also shares strategies you can use to be a better leader during unstable times.

5 Ways Leadership Must Change

In order to deal with disruption effectively, leadership must change. Here are five ways to lead through disruptive times:

  1. Embrace a disruption mindset.
  2. Use structure to establish stability and security.
  3. Be open and transparent to keep everyone on the same page and establish credibility.
  4. Communicate a strong vision for the future that others can almost taste.
  5. Find opportunities for the future. This may take innovation, creativity, and inspiration.

Recognize Your Leadership Style

There are many types, archetypes, and styles of leadership. Each style of leadership has its place in the world, especially when disruption is involved. What is your leadership archetype? Are you a steadfast manager who might not be so open to change but loves to inspire others? How about a worried skeptic who doesn’t like change and prefers to just keep a low profile? All leaders can change with the right mindset. Think about what the change means for the organization.

Everyone has a place during disruptive times. Organizations need leaders who think about what can go wrong just as much as they need those who can motivate everyone in the right direction. Effective managers of all archetypes need to work together and combine their strengths to reach the other side.

Create Stability

In order to create stability, try to use as many of the same tools and processes as possible during the disruption. The onset of disruption will cause instability and uncertainty. Rituals, processes, and tools might need to change, but some amount of familiarity will keep others from suffering from change fatigue.

For someone who is resistant to change, meaning they have a low disruption quotient, anything you, as a leader, can do to maintain the status quo during highly disruptive times is essential for their productivity and wellbeing.

Be Open

Openness creates a sense of accountability and increases diversity. Leaders who are open set the example for others to be open. When that happens, failure becomes an opportunity to learn rather something to fear. The diversity that openness creates allows everyone to bring ideas to the table, which is great for both the team and the organization!

How do you know what to be open about? Charlene recommends finding the areas where trust is low and being more open about those topics. Private information should still be private. Being open doesn’t necessarily mean sharing salary information with everyone; it means giving everyone the information that enables them to make better decisions.

Communicate in 3D

The three dimensions of 3D communication are:

  1. Over communicating
  2. Being multi-modal
  3. Thinking remote-first

These three dimensions help to keep the vision solidified in the minds of others through repeated messaging over different modes of communication. Some people remember what they read better than others. Others may best internalize what they see or hear. So, when you communicate what’s important, use words, images, and verbal reminders to make sure everyone receives the message well.

Remote thinking means setting up communications with the expectation that people are not in the same physical space. Posters, for example, can’t reach remote workers. Also, meetings need to enable remote workers to access the same information as everyone in the room. This might mean cameras in the room to show body language, shared screens and documents, and technology that is capable of delivering everything on time, every time.

Disruption Leads to Innovation

Every recession led to major innovations such as the iPod, CNN, and Uber and other gig culture companies. Leaders set the pace for innovation by being open and honest.

Lead the Future

It takes disruption to spur true innovation. World-changing events like major recessions and pandemics create vast opportunities for leaders to make the world a better place. Disruption doesn’t have to cause companies to fail, but it does cause companies to change.

This post was written by Phil Vuollet. Phil leads software engineers on the path to high levels of productivity. He writes about topics relevant to technology and business, occasionally gives talks on the same topics, and is a family man who enjoys playing soccer and board games with his children.

Photo by CoWomen