Welcome to Leading Disruption!

Welcome to Leading Disruption, a weekly letter about disruptive leadership in a transforming world. Every week we’ll discover how the best leaders set strategy, build culture, and manage uncertainty all in service of driving disruptive, transformative growth.

The question of the hour is this: What IS leadership?

Leadership is creating change. It’s a mindset, not a title. A leader is someone who sees a problem or an opportunity, and decides to make it happen.

(If you’re not creating change then you’re not a leader, you’re a manager. Which is fine! We need good managers who make sure things are done efficiently. But when things need to change, a leader must step in.)

How does leadership work?

Leaders create change through their ability to form relationships. Leadership is a relationship between somebody (you!) who aspires to create change, and the people they inspire to make that change happen.

One of the most important challenges that we face today as leaders is, how do we form those relationships in a hybrid remote/in-person environment? How does the way we lead need to change and adapt?

After all, we’re facing so many transformations:

  • Technological transformations are forcing us to form and deepen relationships in different ways.
  • A pandemic created an entirely new sense of what it means to work and be on a team. There’s a stronger sense of agency among employees and team members that imbues a new sense of control, accountability and ownership over the outcomes. That is going to challenge and change leadership!
  • The social and economic justice uprising and awareness requires that leaders ensure that everybody who has the skills also has the opportunities to advance as far as possible in their lives and careers.

How do we thrive in this highly disrupted world? And how do we set course for the change we see? The more audacious the change the harder the path will be, and the more we’re going to need strong relationships so that we overcome the inevitable roadblocks.

If you’re reading this, you are a leader — or an aspiring one. So I want to share what I see as the most important new competencies of disruptive leaders today, so you can consciously hone your skills.

Establish Credibility via Digital Channels

Credibility comes from your ability to execute and your ability to listen to and reflect the needs and concerns of your followers. No one forms the relationships of a leader without listening. I like to quote from the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus: “we were born with two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

How we listen and speak is now different because of digital communications. Listening is done with our eyes and requires careful reading of emails, Slack messages, and social media posts. Speaking requires fluency in digital channels, ranging from LinkedIn to collaboration platforms — and intentionally using these channels to move your work forward.

Leaders: Are you speaking and listening digitally in proportion to your two ears and one mouth?

Develop and Demonstrate Empathy

Listening allows you to increase your empathy — to imagine yourself in somebody else’s shoes, and really understand where they are coming from to the best of your ability. How can you inspire them or encourage them to change if you don’t know what their roadblocks are?

Empathy requires that you see the whole person, not just their demographics or psychographics but also how they think, what they say, how they feel, and what they do. Creating this “empathy map” requires engaging and knowing your customer, employee, or partner in a deep way, meeting them in whatever channels they prefer to use.

Leaders: Are you paying lip service to listening or are you listening? Deeply and mindfully, to understand your conversation partner? Do they have a sense that they are known, that they believe you truly see them as they are, not how you wish them to be?

Striving for Excellence In the Face of Uncertainty

I hear from so many organizations I work with that if they can’t ensure that nothing will fail, then they just won’t move forward. The only result of this mindset is paralysis.

Given the many transformations and challenges leaders face, you don’t have the time and the luxury to do things perfectly. The best a leader can do is be prepared and encourage everyone to be the best they can be. To be excellent. That’s all we could ever ask ourselves and of each other! This idea of not being able to fail or make mistakes is one of the most difficult things that leaders must overcome.

Dealing with uncertainty while maintaining high levels of excellent performance means favoring a bias for action over perfection. We must leave the “A-student” mindset behind and adopt a learner’s stance where we’ll make a lot of mistakes along the journey so that we can continually get better, faster.

Leaders: How are you dealing with uncertainty? How do you inspire excellence instead of demanding perfection? 

Leadership is an art

You know what it takes to become a better artist: practice. And practice makes better, not perfect.

Leadership is a practice available to all of us, whether you’re introverted or extroverted, outgoing or shy. The new world of leadership is key to making the changes we desperately need.

Each week we’re going to peel back the layers of leading disruption right here. The next step in this important conversation is happening TODAY at 9 am PT / 12 pm ET here on LinkedIn. Join me for a conversation with Erica Dhawan, author of the new book Digital Body Language. You may think you’re a great digital communicator but join to learn how you can be doing things differently… and better.

Our increasingly digital lives require new skills to foster connection, build trust, and lead effectively — and that’s exactly what Erica and I will be talking about. Remember, leadership is nothing without relationships! So join me and Erica today (Tuesday, May 11th) for this necessary and skill-building conversation.

Your Turn

I’d love to hear from you. Think about the best leader you’ve ever had the privilege of working with. While they likely did and said many amazing things, think instead about how they made you feel. What’s one word that encapsulates how this leader made you feel?

I’ve shared mine in the comments below — let me know your word!