Right before the Summer, I had the chance to listen to two marking speeches delivered by professionals I profoundly respect. One was the farewell speech of Philippe Bobin, an ex-Olympic decathlon athlete, business coach, who was in charge of the development of Solvay’s top 500 leaders. The following day, I was invited to the graduation of NEOMA’s MBA’s (NEOMA is the sole triply accredited Business School on Paris soil) and listen to the French athlete turned entrepreneur, Taïg Khris.
What those two rich personalities delivered to their audiences was nothing less than life changing speeches.
At the moment of turning an important page of his professional journey, Philippe’s message was: “I am not retiring, I just choose to provoke disequilibrium in a sort of life which I could have stretched for another few years. I choose to “put myself in danger again” as I feel the need to reinvent myself.”
Simple and powerful! Just the opposite of an old, bitter and worn out retiree, longing for a well-deserved break… Those words left it clear that this moment was not the end of something but the start of a new and intense purposeful life!
Was it a deliberate provocation? NEOMA had decided to invite a man who never, ever sat in a classroom of his whole life, as the Guest Speaker of its MBA Graduation Ceremony 2016… Taïg Khris is a famous sportsman (who won three times the X Games, the world championship of extreme sports), jumped down the Eiffel Tower then Montmartre’s Sacré Coeur on his roller skates and has since, become a highly successful businessman, in a truly “Disruptive Leadership” manner with his new firm, selling the amazing app (http://www.onoff.fr/), based on a simple thought: How come that our e.mail addresses are available from the cloud and therefore usable from any internet connected device, whereas our phone number are locked in a specific set? I therefore came up with phone numbers one can use on any mobile device.
Taïg explained the unusual story of his life, from the child of a modest migrant family in France, to an accomplished sportsman, then entrepreneur (in the stationary business), to a highly mediatized public figure (with his jump off the Eiffel Tower and many TV shows such as Koh Lanta or “Danse avec les stars” for the French), back to an entrepreneur again. His message was: “I question myself in permanence. If I didn’t do that, I would soon be out of the picture”.
This reminded me, of course, of a key step on Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”: The Crossing of the Threshold, which is one of the most painful steps for the Hero. It is about questioning our “Winning Formula”, in a painful realization that the mask (we all have a mask which we use as a protection, with more or less success) with which we ended up identifying, is now obsolete. The Crossing is a moment of loneliness, where the Hero leaves behind the comfort of his habits, of his comfort zone, is requested to challenge his deeply held beliefs, accept to see his experience been disrupted and all this without any certainty that the new world he is heading for will be as hospitable as the one he leaves behind.
Becoming a Disruptive Leader, someone who protects her organization against disruption or provokes it, does the same. Such leaders are intimately convinced that “if we don’t disrupt ourselves, someone else will.”
In our experience, working with such Disruptive Leaders, three traits distinguish them from many of their peers:
- Challenging orthodoxies: Such leaders are constantly scrutinizing their environment; they listen carefully to their colleagues and employees with the aim of spotting unconscious “sacred cows” and unquestioned orthodoxies. They translate this, behaviourally, in listening for understanding and asking the right questions.
- They engage in “Context Leadership” rather than defend their “Content Leadership”: in other terms, they are aware that their knowledge is not their licence to operate any more. They are humble enough to choose people who intellectually and knowledge wise, surpass them. So rather than lead from the front and have opinions on everything, they lead from the back, encourage and challenge those who are brighter than them. Rather than placing individual contributors on a pedestal, they seek to create an intelligent organization.
- They stretch but do not stress their organization: All medical doctors will agree that stress is no good for humans. It focuses on our fears (for Survival, for Territory and for Habits), pushes us into the arms of our Defence mechanisms and, consequently prevents us from being truly creative, taking measured risks and being reasonable. Disruptive leaders stretch, challenge, encourage and push their organization but avoid fear and anxiety as leadership techniques.
Thank you Philippe, thank you Taïg. We wish you success in your new lives. Thank you for showing the way in reinventing ourselves.