4 Qualities of an Effective Disruptor

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Businesses need disruptors to survive. Your company needs people who will question how things are done, innovate, lead the charge, and create something entirely new.

But how do you become that disruptor? How do you build up the courage and the skills to effectively challenge the status quo?

I asked Vanessa, a technology leader with a large financial company, whose résumé reflects the experience of a seasoned disruptor and thought leader. Vanessa has saved her company multimillions of dollars, resolved critical IT incidents, transformed companywide systems, and driven growth through innovation.

Here’s a case in point. Vanessa recalls a time when her business unit decided to break away from the parent company to develop its own data center. This presented her with a significant opportunity for career growth. “Knowing that my organization was going to move to its own data center, I aligned my goals with the organization’s goals.”

Based on her track record of running other successful projects, Vanessa was appointed to lead the effort. That encompassed all aspects of setting up the new facility, from building it to implementing operational procedures to establishing ongoing support. This move was unlike anything she or her organization had attempted before.

“How do you do that?” Vanessa recalls asking herself.

So how did she go about breaking with tradition and achieving something that’s never been done before? And how can you purposefully and effectively disrupt the status quo? Vanessa shares these four tips for aspiring disruptors.

1. Identify your allies

If you aspire to become a disruptor, begin by establishing relationships with influential advocates who can voice their support as you take risks. “Identify your allies,” says Vanessa. “Establishing this support base for yourself is extremely important, and understanding how much they are willing to back you up is equally as important.”

2. Tackle a challenging project

Raise your hand to take on a challenging project,” says Vanessa. Look for one with scope that reaches beyond your current role. Taking on a large-scale project allows you to build your risk tolerance and raise your profile, while establishing yourself as someone who is willing to take bold, decisive action.

3. Share your vision and viewpoint

Don’t ever think that what you have to say does not have value. Vanessa has known colleagues who mistakenly think that because they hold a more junior role on their team, it means what they have to say is not important. “Stand up for yourself and share your expertise,” says Vanessa, “You are an important resource within your organization, so don’t be shy about telling people that.” Always be prepared to speak up and share your information, vision, and viewpoint.

4. Reach outside your organization

Starting from a blank slate in her goal to deliver a new data center, Vanessa decided to reach outside her organization to learn from others.

“I did not personally have the expertise, but I knew someone who did,” says Vanessa, who consulted with a friend who was leading a similar center for a large financial institution. He met with Vanessa and her team to share what they did, how they did it, and what they had learned, including mistakes made. “By learning from someone else,” Vanessa recounts, “We prevented those particular mistakes from occurring within our organization.”

Vanessa and others like her are a perfect example of what it means to innovate at work. “I took on a challenging project that was above and beyond my original role, and refused to allow my title to hold me back.” So the next time you identify something that needs to change within your company, or you see a gap in the market, step forward and disrupt the status quo.

Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is founding editor of BeLeaderly.com. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.


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