Go Ahead. Disrupt Yourself.


Disruption in business is inevitable. Marketplaces shift. Customer needs evolve. New technology emerges. Employees come and go. But it’s far better for your company to disrupt itself than to be disrupted by an outside force, says Quint Studer, author of The Busy Leader’s Handbook: How to Lead People and Places That Thrive. Being proactive, not reactive, will let you strategize and better control the process.

“Over the years, I have recommended actions to improve performance and results,” says Studer, a lifelong businessman and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of West Florida. “But I get pushback from people who are uncomfortable with change. They say, ‘We’re fine doing things the way we’ve always done them.’ However, much of a leader’s job is steering an organization through discomfort.”

Here are some of his tips for handling that.

Reevaluate your company regularly

Schedule a time to pick apart your processes and systems, and keep that date no matter what. Take it one department at a time. You are likely to find that what you think is happening inside your company isn’t at all. This will give you a chance to “disrupt yourself,” or step in and make needed changes.

Ask questions

Never be afraid to ask questions for fear you might not like the answers. Regularly ask employees what they think your business’s biggest challenges are. What might it do differently? What is holding it back and what is working well? Ask customers how you can better serve them, when and where you’ve exceeded expectations, and what problems you solve for them.

Own the messages that unsettle you

It’s easy to blame someone else. Instead, take ownership of the negative feedback that makes you uncomfortable and figure out some solutions. Those who own the messages themselves – and make the changes necessary to turn them around – are the real leaders.

Make it a cultural standard to immediately admit to mistakes

It’s unsettling, but owning up to mistakes allows you to quickly fix issues and correct the course. Say, “I was wrong,” when you need to, and make sure it’s psychologically safe for others to do so as well. Don’t punish mistakes. Make it clear that mistakes are a necessary part of learning and growth.

Urge employees to get in on the self-disruption, too

When your employees see that you’re constantly evaluating how your specialty toy business is doing, they’ll get involved, too. It won’t be just you, the business owner, looking for ways to improve. It will be everyone working together. Those closest to the process are often the best ones to disrupt and improve it.

The beauty of regular self-disruption is that it creates a culture in which people continually look for a better way to do things; culture in which no one is satisfied with anything less than the best. As you constantly seek to disrupt and unsettle yourself, don’t forget to recognize and celebrate what’s going right. Celebrate the wins with employees, and praise and reward your high performers. This keeps engagement and morale high and encourages employees to work even harder and smarter.

Discomfort is neither good nor bad, but simply a byproduct of change. That new baby, new job, new house, car, city, or even that new understanding can all cause discomfort, yet most people agree that once the dust settles, the change was worth the temporary discomfort.

“Leadership means unsettling ourselves and others,” concludes Studer. “The most effective leaders realize that being unsettled is part of the process of life, and they work to understand and role-model this truth.”

Quint Studer is the founder of Vibrant Community Partners and Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute. His work with individuals at all levels and across a variety of industries has helped them create high-performing organizations and become better leaders. Studer’s books are Wall Street Journal bestsellers. To learn more, please visit thebusyleadershandbook.com.

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