Is the forward progress of your venture, team, department or business being hijacked by a Professional Disrupter? We all have met one or two of these folks during the course of our careers. They have a well-oiled agenda, using a finely-tuned skill set: they turn themselves into the most important person in the room. They are also the key problem in that room.
Professional Disrupters can be colleagues, customers, vendors, partners, you name it. They are a non-vital factor for your long-term business success.
Professional Disrupters have a way of communicating that is always cryptic and incomprehensible. They don’t clearly articulate their questions, or their deliverables. It’s as though the only person capable of comprehending what they mean is the Professional Disrupter. As attention is turned to that individual for clarification (and more double-talk), yup, they’ve done it again. Your meeting becomes theirs. It’s all about them.
Over the years, their success in hijacking departments, ventures, and small businesses has given these Professional Disrupters a strong sense of entitlement. Their own self-perception of their expertise (merited or not) fuels their continuing showmanship.
Colleagues and customers see things differently, however. They find Professional Disrupter emails obscure or, alternatively, completely outrageous. The Professional Disrupter’s conversations tend to minimize the intellect of the other folks seated around the table. The behavior of a Professional Disrupter is described as condescending and exclusive, as all of you start to compare notes.
Bottom line: Professional Disrupters make everyone else feel bad about themselves. They seem to make every professional interaction personal, don’t they?
The problem grows when the Professional Disrupter doesn’t perceive their behavior as disruptive! Disruption is their Normal. The rest of your team elects to take the high road. You avoid addressing directly. Depending on the size of your business, department or startup, there may/may not be an HR policy for handling these types of situations. The Professional Disrupter has now hijacked your team, department, perhaps your small business.
Colleagues and customers begin to marginalize the Professional Disrupter from the conversation. Workarounds will be created to by-pass their perceived disruption. These actions, on the parts of teams, departments, ventures, and small businesses detract from productivity, morale, output, quality of care.
Organizations may elect to do some sort of damage control. These disruptive folks are siphoned off laterally. Perhaps the Professional Disrupter is shipped around to different company locations so that they are never in one place long enough to create complete chaos (just partial). Nobody really knows what to do with these folks.
If you are a startup, there’s only two or three of you to begin with. The Professional Disrupter is exposed from the get-go. As a startup CEO, you have no recourse but to deal with things head-on (or have your mentor or investor help you negotiate the conversation). Hopefully you had a Founders Agreement in place.
If you have a customer who is a Professional Disrupter, you have a choice: fire them. You speak with your sales management and ask to transfer their account to another rep. Chances are, you will find out that these are long-standing house accounts which are moved around like hot potatoes. Everyone’s had the same problem with the business owner / Professional Disruptor.
The most important aspect of dealing with a Professional Disrupter is to draw your personal line in the professional sand. These folks don’t have your permission to hijack You, unless you let them take up residence inside your head.
There are no easy solutions for dealing with Professional Disrupters. Most of the variables in these scenarios I provided are completely out of our control. Take the time to understand the mindset and motivations of Professional Disrupters. Then file that information away under your own professional experience and new perspective of this scenario.
It’s difficult to hijack any situation when you operate from a mindset of Leadership. With this perspective, the antics of a Professional Disrupter become entertaining over time. They can no longer disrupt when no one is receptive to their agenda. They never were leading in the first place.
Babette N. Ten Haken, President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, catalyzes business transition, startup growth, and professional development. She works with non-traditional sellers, engineers, manufacturers, and technical startups.