Sun | May 19, 2019

Trevor E.S. Smith | Disruptive leadership

Published:Sunday | March 10, 2019 | 12:06 AMTrevor E. S. Smith - Contributor

This is not the now-fancied Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (Tesla) variety.

This is about leadership that actually disrupts the effective performance of the team.

Team members are upset and frustrated. Team spirit is non-existent. Engagement levels are low. Performance and productivity are negatively impacted.


One reason why this dysfunctional situation continues is the issue of despair. Team members have been cowed into submissiveness and have given up hope of finding a way out.

The overbearing behaviour and disrespect have been allowed to become the norm.

The state of affairs often develops gradually. One individual gets put down and that serves as an example. Then another … that continues until the others withdraw into passive objection.

This scenario is similar to a Western-style script that I shared in a CBC webinar. A crook comes into town with his gunslingers with the objective of buying up farms cheaply.

Examples are made of those who resist, until the crook effectively controls the town. At the inspired, courageous leadership of one individual, the townsfolk rally together to reclaim their rights and property.

The message is that the problem can be resolved with inspired, goal-focused and strategic action. Seeking appropriate outside assistance is also a viable option.


Sometimes what comes across as being overbearing is actually a misguided approach to achieving leadership goals. Consequently, it makes sense to pursue meaningful dialogue as a first step in dealing with disruptive leadership.

From a non-confrontational and carefully crafted perspective, seek to get buy-in that there is a better way to achieve the desired goals. Show how cooperation can trump operating in command mode.


One strategy that is employed by disruptive leaders is to throw people out of rhythm.

This might involve causing you to question yourself. Thus, you walk away from a blustering tirade, wondering if you had missed something and had, in fact, messed up.

When that is followed up by calling you out before your colleagues, you may start to entertain self-doubt.

The solution is to appeal to the facts. What does the evidence say?

Fall back on your track record and expertise. Then, on the basis of the evidence, stand your ground! Refuse to be demeaned and challenge misrepresentations.

That raises the question of the risks.

The hard, cold fact is that there is always risk in challenging a bully. It is also equally true that the only relief from bullying is to confront the bully.

Recall from my first point, the value of coming together. Thoughtful solidarity is difficult to resist.


Disruptive leaders usually anchor their actions on some source of power.

The ultimate power is ownership of the enterprise. However, even then, labour laws and the courts might encourage some element of restraint.

Being ‘connected’ or given unchecked authority is another anchor of disruptive leaders.

Whatever the case, one key is to find ways to tap into the power source.

For example, you may need to get an instructive and harmonising message to the owner through his wife’s hairdresser.

Making a structured, forward-looking case to those who empower the disruptive leader could be dangerous, but has the potential to reap rich rewards.

The angle here is to show clearly how the behaviour of the disruptive leader is negatively impacting the objectives of the key stakeholders. Be strategic and tread with care!


Today’s workforce is different in fundamental ways from even a decade ago. A large and increasing proportion of the workforce has a different perspective on their jobs.

In the main, they are better educated and more independent in their thinking. To get the best from them, you need to engage, entrust, empower, encourage and enable them to achieve their goals. These will not be enslaved.

Calm down. Call for a moratorium and challenge yourself and the team to channel a path of cooperation and cohesiveness!


Request a copy of our publication Turbo-Charge Your Coaching and Leadership Skills.

- Trevor E. S. Smith/Success with People Academy solutions align, drive and track performance. Our SPIKE performance management, governance and compliance e-platform supports compliance, tracks performance and guides learning and development. We certify leadership professionals and coach/mentors and develop engaged, high performing teams. Avoid bad hires with FinxS screening solutions. Ask about how to create your own turnkey coaching business.Email: