Leaders Know When to Tolerate High-Maintenance People

A common buzzword now is “disruption”. The idea that if we are to grow, we have to innovate, and the pace of change is so fast that innovation cannot be incremental. We need people who will “disrupt”.

Diversity is a competitive advantage. We know this, too. If everyone on our team were the same, many would be unnecessary – we have to have a variety of styles, walks of life, and backgrounds on our teams.

If these are true, really true, then we have to come to grips with the fact that people who disrupt, and who are different from us, might just be “high maintenance” in our eyes. Leaders often look at their role as someone who needs to temper the high-maintenance people and maintain team spirit. You know I’m a big fan of keeping the team cohesive.

But this doesn’t mean artificial harmony. Let disruptors speak, make it safe for them to do so, and resist the temptation to temper their enthusiasm every single time. Coach other team members to do the same. At the same time, coach the disruptor to consider timing and tone, without holding back their thoughts.

I led a fundraising committee in college back in 1989. We made increment steps toward our goal with fundraisers like bake sales and car washes. At one meeting, a younger student suggested a telethon. We laughed him down a bit, but we in leadership sought to avoid conflict and allowed him to research the idea. Long story short, we were stunned that our organization held a 12-hour telethon on a local cable channel. The experience helped that young disruptor learn, and helped our club innovate and start finding more creative ways to fund-raise.

Note that we got lucky – there was no intentionality to encouraging this disruptor. Yet, we still learned.

As you grow in wisdom, you’ll start to see the difference between rabble-rousers who are destructive, and disruptors who are constructive.

It’s tough to see the difference at first, but you’ll never learn if you always shut them down. Make it safe, and grow as a leader.

What has your experience been with disruptors?

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