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Teach your team how to disrupt

Help your team members discover how they can disrupt the status quo.

4 min read



Susan Fowler

Disruption is keeping executives awake at night: How to handle market curve balls that come out of nowhere? How to plan for the future when your product, service or supply chain is obsolete today? How to allocate resources, train, and develop people for jobs you can’t even imagine yet?

People smarter than I have declared there’s no silver bullet for dealing with disruption. But, as you break down silos, adopt agile innovation strategies, employ enterprise risk management or business continuity management, and seize the white space, consider what research is proving may be the bronze bullet for dealing with disruption: proactive self leaders, those who have the mindset and skill set to get what they need to succeed.

Consider these recent findings:

  • The essential factor for the success of an organizational initiative is the proactive behavior of self leaders.
  • Employees with proactive self leadership skills are more likely to accept responsibility, take initiative, generate ideas, problem solve, job craft, ask for feedback, hold themselves accountable, execute strategy, understand their needs, and ask for help when appropriate.
  • Proactive behavior is teachable.

If you want innovation and agility, enlist the individual contributors on the front lines of the battlefield. But focusing on training individual contributors requires a shift in priorities — from a single focus on leadership training to a broadened approach that includes developing the folks on the other side of the equation.

Here are three ways to begin teaching your individual contributors the skills of proactive self leadership.

1. Set goals together.

Communicate what the organization needs to operate at an elevated level, and then collaborate on how the individual can best contribute. Help individuals to accept responsibility for the quality of their goals by teaching them how to…

  • Seek clarity if a goal isn’t specific, measurable, time-bound or trackable.
  • Negotiate if a goal isn’t attainable, relevant or fair.
  • Reframe if a goal isn’t optimally motivated to them.

You may be surprised to discover when people see what’s needed for the organization to succeed and are asked what part they want to play, they set and commit to higher goals than if you hand them their marching orders.

2. Diagnose their own level of development.

A primary role of a leader is to develop their direct reports. That means being able to diagnose an individual’s competence and commitment related to their goal. All leaders should be encouraged to do just that. But, the best person to evaluate their level of competence and commitment toward an outcome is the person themselves.

Expand your leadership training to teach individuals how to acknowledge their own skill and ability to complete a task or goal. Teach them how to gauge their own confidence and motivation to achieve the goal.

Partnering takes two equals sharing their insights. It’s hard to be agile when one side of the partnership is lacking the ability to effectively contribute.

3. Initiate proactive conversation.

Teach individual contributors to use the powerful “I need” statement to get just-in-time leadership.

Research shows that feedback is far more effective when asked for. People are more likely to take action on problems they’ve helped solve. Take the guesswork out of what an individual contributor needs to succeed by encouraging proactive conversations asking for direction and support. Imagine an employee who manages up: “I understand what’s expected of me, but since I’m new to this goal, I need more direction on how to do it and an action plan for how to proceed.”

There may be no silver bullet for dealing with disruption and constant change, but transforming individual contributors into proactive self leaders may be the bronze bullet that gives everyone a better fighting chance.


Susan Fowler is the co-author of the newly revised “Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager” with Ken Blanchard and Laurence Hawkins, and lead developer of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Self Leadership product line. She is also the author of the bestseller “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does.” Fowler is a senior consulting partner at The Ken Blanchard Cos. and a professor in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership Program at the University of San Diego.

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