Professor Gino has won numerous awards for her teaching, including the HBS Faculty Award by Harvard Business School’s MBA Class of 2015, and for her research, including the 2013 Cummings Scholarly Achievement Award from the Academy of Management Organizational Behavior Division. In 2015, Francesca was chosen by Poets & Quants to beamong their “40 under 40.”
Listen to what Dr. Gino has to say about how we must rethink and reframe our understanding of “rebels” in the workplace. She shares the 5 key talents that rebels possess and how leaders can encourage rebelliousness by creating an environment that inspires people to push boundaries in a positive and healthy way.
For knowledge and inspiration, Francesca raved about NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast by Shankar Vedantam as something she truly enjoys. You must also hear what she says about Harvard where the learning never ends.
She advises us to be “rebels,” to break the rules productively, even if it doesn’t come naturally to us as leaders. You can find her 7-day plan for rule-breaking here.
Listen to what she says about her goal to learn to play the piano and who she has teaching her to do so.
She talks about how those around us can lead us to greater levels of achievement. Her insight is inspirational.
Lastly, you can’t miss her milk story and the epiphany she experienced about the rules we live by that we may not even be aware of.
Francesca’s interview is filled with practical advice for leaders and it really speaks to how we must embrace rebel talent to thrive. As any good professor knows to do, she reinforces the importance of learning goals and developing our rebel talents. Take the rebel test to learn what kind of rebel you are.
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Schools are constantly subjected to forces of change. Some change is driven by internal considerations, while others are due to external factors, some out of necessity, while a few are fueled by inspiration and drive. When we think about inspiration and drive in schools, we think about school leaders who productively disrupted their organization to create something new and different that hadn’t existed until they pushed the conventions to the limit.
When Steve Jobs was CEO of both Apple and Pixar, he maintained an incessant focus on excellence. His reputation in his early years at Apple portrays him as somewhat tyrannical about it, but the people closest to him say that his candor was always laced with compassion (Catmull, 2014). His desire to disrupt, pushed himself and others to think and create beyond imagination. Undoubtedly, he is remembered as a controversial leader, but he is also considered one of the greatest innovators, entrepreneurs, and business tycoons that the universe has ever seen.
Jobs had a few key characteristics that made him successful. He was driven, profound in his thinking, possessed an uncanny ability to say no, and cared deeply about the collaborative process. At times, he was also dissentious and outspoken, which often meant that he argued relentlessly to get what he wanted. He was surely opinionated, and he went to great lengths by forcefully assembling what he considered to be the right people to get the work done. The problem is that the same qualities that made him successful–giving him the skills and abilities as CEO of two of the most creative and profitable companies ever (at the same time)–are precisely what got him fired from Apple in the first place and likely the reason that people still describe him as arrogant and even nasty.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Steve Jobs fan; it’s impossible to dismiss the fact that he was revolutionary in his ways. He gave us personal computers when the idea was laughable and then he put one in our pockets. He changed the way that we interact with music and then he built a platform to buy it that had never before been conceived. But, to do these things, he disrupted the business world, the status quo in more than one industry, and our modern culture as we know it. So we ought to do our best to learn from him, for better or worse, to apply a little of what made Jobs tick in our own leadership scenarios. It’s possible for all of us to be a bit more productively disruptive in our own organizations.
The good news is that you don’t need to be Steve Jobs or even hire a Steve Jobs to garner success in much of the way that he did. However, let’s dissect what made him, and other disruptors, so wildly accomplished in business and life when the people around him dismissed his character as flawed, doubted his predictions, and dreaded the interactions they might have with him. It’s time that we value the rebels, the radicals, and the renegades.
School Leaders as Productive Disruptors
School leaders who are productive disruptors understand that change and instability, for good or bad, both internal and external, are the only true constants. As a result, they skillfully leverage problems as opportunities by creating a culture that encourages people to willingly identify and fix areas that need to be improved. They foster an environment where innovation and ideation are the norm rather than the exception.
The interpretive and diagnostic approach to challenges includes three distinct steps. Organizations often don’t get to even experience Step One, and it’s only at Step Three where true innovation can occur. Once we realize the way each step works, we can cultivate a setting that maximizes Step Three through people, culture, and space.
The School Leader’s Model for Productive Disruption
Step One–Problem Solving: A Traditional Approach to Improvement
Every school has issues and problems-of-practice. If you take a couple minutes, grab a pen and a pad of paper, we’re certain that you can identify several things that need to be fixed, improved, polished, or, worse yet, thrown out in your life and work as a school leader. Problems are plentiful, but good, viable solutions are not. To combat this imbalance, disruptive leaders know that in order to land on the right solutions, teams must thrive in a collaborative culture. Dr. Collier (2016) explains that skillful problem-solving works best among those who embrace the “yes, and” approach, which builds a team-oriented path to solving issues by capitalizing on the fact that many problems are the result of various breakdowns throughout a school or district and not isolated to one area or department.
This type of problem-identification and solution-minded manner of dealing with issues is the most traditional way that school leaders tackle challenges. Too often, when leaders perceive themselves as trapped by their problems, they admire the issues without addressing them head-on and holistically. But system- and design-thinking are becoming more mainstream for school success with intiatives. Using “yes, and” allows leaders to acknowledge current conditions and add a future consideration. Too often, our cultures revert to “yeah, but…” Step One pushes for a problem solving approach.
Step Two–Constructive Dissonance: An Uncommon Approach to Growth
Receiving difficult feedback is hard to hear regardless of the circumstance. We are easily unnerved and fall prey to our sensitivities, which can limit the growth of our organization by the culture that we create. Disruptive school leaders recognize that the workforce around them must be able to freely communicate ideas and thoughts, even when they are different, unwelcomed, and against the grain. Yes, they must be aligned to the vision and core values of the district, but they don’t have to honor the status quo. They should push boundaries, revealing areas of need that typically go unnoticed or get ignored.
As Jim Collins (2001) writes: it’s a key characteristic of the “Level 5” leader to embrace humility with a “fierce resolve” for improvement. Humble yet disruptive leaders create a culture that requires everyone to speak out and speak up because of a true desire to question everything with, “what do we need to do to make this even better?” This creates constructive dissonance, which takes problem solving to a new level, but it doesn’t always initiate something totally new like we’ll see in Step Three. It’s more growth and improvement centered than it is innovative or inventive.
Step Three–Break It: An Extraordinary Approach to Innovation
How we frame situations, programs, and products is critical to unveiling new ideas and capitalizing on various challenges. This step requires a whole new lens for school leadership growth and innovation. The strategy is designed to combat a desire to rest on previous successes. Zuckerberg once touted the mantra, “move fast and break things,” which he later revised to “move fast with stable infrastructure” (Statt, 2014). Innovation requires a new way of thinking, which often goes beyond problem solving or making incremental adjustments. It’s a growth strategy that relies on proactive thinking and anticipation based on new and different ideas.
Often this approach unveils a new and better approach, solution, or idea that totally removes the old and replaces it with something altogether new and different. Productive disruptors tend to break rules and make messes in the pursuit of an improved alternative. The ideal is not just to solve a problem or fix something, but rather explore new territory altogether, not confined by artificial boundaries or rules. This is akin to an artist needing a completely new canvas versus trying to rework an already established painting. It means leaving a first version behind or breaking the system to start over.
Incorporating Step Three into your organization requires extreme focus on three areas–how we support people, how we establish culture, and how we create space for productive disruption to occur. This will ingrain, Break It, as an expectation not just a novel idea.
Powering Step Three: 3 Solution-Driven Ideals for School Leaders
The following ideals are uncomfortable, which is what makes them rare, but they’re critical to building an organization that values innovation at its core. These three ideals are each grounded in evidence and research, and they represent true leadership. The definition of leadership is influence, the challenge of leadership is conflict, and the result of leadership is change. Productive disruptors create change through conflict that results in their influence for something new and different to occur. These three ideals are what support Step Three.
Ideal #1–Focus on the People
Great school leaders know that it’s never policies or programs that get the work done; it’s the people. To get to Step Three, and past the traditional problem-solution model, leaders must create an environment that supports the people who are willing to do the breaking–the people who make a mess, challenge the status-quo, and often make others uncomfortable. Francesca Gino (2018) calls these people “rebels,” and she notes that they have distinct insight and talents that they bring to the table. Leaders who crave innovation need rebel talent on the team. That means that we need to hire and support rebels, but it also means that we need to foster rebel-behavior in people who might otherwise be stifled by rules. For creative solutions for old problems to emerge, to replace fundamental beliefs with new ones, leaders have to idealize disruption and accept some of the disorder that comes before change can occur.
Technical Tip: At some point, every rising school leader reaches a place where the work is viewed through who can best support the desired outcome. We have to shift our focus from what is getting done to who is getting it done. Look for individuals with great perceptual acuity, the ability to “see around corners,” to bring creativity and innovation to your team. We have to recognize our risk-takers and reward our “rebels” so that everyone understands that we value disruption and innovation over traditions and status quo.
Ideal #2–Focus on the Culture
We center productive disruption as a cultural norm in organizations. It’s evident that some school cultures inherently invite and support disruptors and some do not. The point, though, is that if you’re interested in innovation–or real problem solving at any level, disruption has to be embedded in the culture. This doesn’t come without what Ray Dalio (2017) calls “radical transparency.” This is a level of candor that goes beyond facing the facts or confronting reality to being brutally forward with thoughts and ideas. It means being critical with almost a hint of insensitivity. Dalio explains that it’s only when we truly desire criticism and feedback that we’ll accept it openly to improve ourselves and the organization.
Technical Tip: Every great school has a clear vision coupled with crystal clear core values. Great school leaders list and post their school’s core values everywhere so that they are imprinted into everyone’s minds. They leverage their core values to ensure that the work is aligned to the vision and goals. Make sure your organization’s core values support change, new ideas, and innovation; one such value is “transparent communication.”
Ideal #3–Focus on the Space
For new thoughts to emerge and for sharing to take place at the highest degree, we need time and space to come together with the right atmosphere for the people. Pat Lencioni’s (2002) composite character, Kathryn, found her team to be totally dysfunctional when she arrived as their new leader. They weren’t getting results, they lacked accountability, commitment was low, they feared conflict, and trust was simply absent. What Kathryn did to mend the team and revive performance was to create space where vulnerability and safety could occur. She established trust by allowing for dissonance but then pulling together the thoughts of every member of her team into a synthesized plan that they could all get behind. She didn’t allow disagreements to fester; instead, she actually brought them to the surface, making it okay to push back while at the same time holding one another accountable. She acted as a guide and a facilitator, and, ultimately, she communicated care through her firm decision-making once she gained insight from the team. She was only able to do this because time and space were available for the team to hash things out in a way that hadn’t happened before she started creating it for them.
Technical Tip: Transform meetings into a place for open-source ideas. Create space and maximize collaboration by setting and adhering to strict meeting times and establishing meeting norms for transparency, engagement, and accountability. One way to do this is to organize agenda items to a person with an associated time and intended purpose. Each item should be marked as dissemination, decision, or discussion. This approach lets people know how to participate with the agenda items–take notes to share with others, help to create a plan, or to brainstorm new ideas designed to break things.
At TheSchoolHouse302 we equate Steve Jobs with an insatiable desire to simply make things better regardless of how good they are already. We even take that one step further, as Jobs often did, by pursuing the impossible. Excellence is a never-ending pursuit that is not confined by artificial boundaries or limiting ideals. There are countless advances with otherwise unforeseen outcomes, from the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming to Henry Ford’s commitment to building the V8 engine, all of which remind us of what was once considered the impossible. Productive disruption is the result of not only great minds coming together, but the faith and belief that progress really is limitless. As a leader, have the courage to allow your organization to break it by remembering to focus on the people, focus on the culture, and focus on the space.
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Every month at TheSchoolHouse302, you get a blog post with a leadership development model, a podcast with a leading expert, a “read this” with three book selections, and a review and reflection tool–all on a particular topic of leadership to help you lead better and grow faster. Posts are always blasted out on Sundays so that leaders can think and prepare for the week ahead.
In months when we have 5 Sundays, we also provide an infographic to help visualize and solidify the concept. This month was all about communication and learning to stifle the fear of giving feedback as a leader. Our blog provided the 5Cs of communication, the podcast with Judith Glaser highlighted the concept of conversational intelligence, the books we suggested are a must read, the review&reflect series allows you to self-assess, and below, because of our 5th Sunday this month, you get a special infographic to strengthen your communication skills by staying C.A.L.M. As always, please like, follow, and comment. If you have topics of interest, guests you want us to interview, or books that we should read and recommend, please let us know that as well. Joe & T.J.
This is TheSchoolHouse302 monthly #review&reflect, wrapping up our focus on professional dialogue, taking the fear out of giving feedback.
Skills I need…
Communication is at the heart of everything we do. We are constantly sending messages, both verbally and non-verbally, communicating to others, sharing our thoughts, ideas, expectations, and more. In our professional circles, if we want individuals to perform at their best and organizations to function optimally, clear communication must govern all aspects of our work. The question is, how well do you communicate as a leader?
Review: This month we focused on common issues leaders face when communicating, particularly on how to provide constructive feedback to an employee who is doing well, but certainly can grow in other areas. We featured an all too common scenario in many organizations. Dan, the manager in our story, struggles with giving Samantha, one of his direct reports, feedback for a variety of reasons. Primarily, despite her personal productivity, her tremendous energy, and charisma, unfortunately, her efforts, at times, are misplaced and detract from the focus of the team. So, to help Dan, we offer our 5Cs of Professional Dialogue, which not only concentrates on the power of communication, but also the critical importance of relationships.
The 5Cs of Professional Dialogue is a model for ongoing professional conversations. It’s meant to demonstrate the need for clear and ongoing communication with an overarching emphasis on providing feedback to people within your organization for growth and development to reach goals.
Openly Communicate throughout the organization to create transparency and productive discourse. Does your communication style create dialogue to open up avenues for you to easily approach others and for them to approach you?
Always communicate Clearly so that everyone is on the same page. Are your organization’s goals clear enough to use in a conversation regarding performance?
Use Candor to reduce confusion, add clarity, and achieve success. Is your feedback specific, candid, two-way, and ongoing?
Be in their Corner to help them grow and develop. Does your feedback communicate that you’re in the person’s corner no matter what you’re saying?
Demonstrate Care so that everyone is working in an environment of support and growth with high expectations. Do your words and actions demonstrate care for the people in your organization?
Reflect: Each C, whether it focuses on clarity or being in someone’s corner, contributes to effective communication. Communication is complex and individuals possess strengths and weaknesses under this large leadership umbrella. To grow in your ability to communicate effectively, review each of the Cs and determine which one you need to focus on to improve your communication effectiveness. To grow systematically, we encourage you to adopt the same strategy Benjamin Franklin used to live a virtuous life. Franklin identified 13 virtues that he wanted to live by; each week, he focused on only one with the goal of developing that particular virtue. So, for the 5Cs, simply start with one of them and focus on that area throughout the week; then, each week thereafter, identify another one of the Cs and make it your focus. Over time, you will develop your skills to learn to do each effortlessly.
As a leader, are you willing to do what it takes to be a great communicator, to build relationships, to hear what others need to say, and to provide critical feedback to achieve the desired results of your organization?
How do I learn those skills…
What should I read to enhance my ability to communicate effectively and provide specific ongoing feedback to those I lead?
Review: In our #readthisseries we featured the work of authors who clearly articulate the power of effective communication through practical strategies and tools that anyone can adopt:
You can’t miss our #readthisseries on the Art of Communication and Feedback. Watch it again here.
Reflect: Do you have a clear understanding of how well you communicate? Have you asked someone you can trust to give you candid feedback on your skill level? How well do you create an environment of vulnerability where open communication is demanded? Of the five-part model, which area will you start focusing on today?
Great leaders understand that poor communication cripples organizational effectiveness.They also realize that open communication is a cultural norm that is reinforced and modeled by their actions and behaviors. The question is how well do you communicate? Based on the 5-part model, and using a 5-point scale, 1 being ineffective and 5 being highly effective, rate yourself:
Who should I follow…
What does an expert have to say about effective communication?
Review: For our #onethingseries, we interviewed Judith Glaser, who is the world’s leading authority on Conversational Intelligence®, WE-centric Leadership, and Neuro-Innovation.
Throughout the interview, Judith emphasized how we can move into richer, deeper conversations when we are truly invested in the people we lead. She spoke about how conversations can be powerful when we suspend judgment, when we desire to really hear what the person is saying, and when we adopt a co-creational approach to communication.
Reflect: Judith shared that she realized as a child that her thoughts and ideas were different. As a result, she made sure to develop her thoughts and gain a greater understanding about herself and the ways in which we communicate as humans. As a leader, we can adopt the same approach by allowing ourselves and others to think and share as freely as possible. The goal is to develop an organization where ideas and innovation are the result of clarity and safety.
Does your organizational culture allow for information and ideas to flow freely?
John Maxwell’s (2007) law of the lid describes how an organization can only rise to the level of the leader. Essentially the leader will place a “lid” on the organization and those she leads. Mastering the art of communication immediately establishes a higher lid, or ceiling, for the organization to expand and reach new heights. We must willingly learn to master communication to take ourselves and others to a whole new level of performance.
That’s our #review&reflect for Professional Dialogue. Take a look back to take a step forward.
Please let us know how our leadership posts are working for you, what you are reading to improve yourself, and your thoughts on leadership and growth here on our blog and Twitter. Follow our #onethingseries podcast on iTunes and our #readthisseries on YouTube.