Innovation and Disruption Theorist | Keynote Speaker | Best-Selling Author | Executive and Performance Coach
Disruption and Leadership
Whitney Johnson is a global influencer and host of the “Disrupt Yourself” podcast. We discuss the reason it’s important for organizations and individuals to avoid complacency by disrupting themselves and continuing to adapt over time even when it seems unnecessary.
Whitney Johnson is one of the 50 leading business thinkers in the world (Thinkers50) and an expert on helping high growth organizations develop high growth individuals. As a former award-winning stock analyst on Wall Street and co-founder of the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Clayton Christensen, Whitney Johnson understands how stocks and people gain and maintain momentum. She has codified her frameworks for developing high growth individuals––the S Curve of Learning and Personal Disruption frameworks in the critically-acclaimed book Disrupt Yourself, and the award-winning Build an “A” Team (Harvard Business Press, 2018), and is a frequent lecturer for Harvard Business School Publishing’s Corporate Learning.
In 2019, she was ranked #3 on the Global Gurus’ Top 30 Organizational Culture Professionals. In 2017, she was selected from more than 16,000 candidates as a “Top 15 Coach” by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. She is a LinkedIn Influencer with 1.7 million followers and was selected as a Top Voice of 2018. Whitney hosts the weekly “Disrupt Yourself” podcast at whitneyjohnson.com.
“Shame limits disruption, not failure. If it is scary and lonely you are on the right path.”
“Do not dare not to dare.” – C.S. Lewis
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This podcast is sponsored by Grand Heron International. Through a growing network of credentialed and vetted coaches, Grand Heron International brings you on-demand coaching with coaching on site and the Coaching Assistance Program for corporations. Whether you are a company committed to investing in your leaders, an individual navigating a complex situation or a coach searching for a superb network of coaches, visit us at GrandHeronInternational.com.
Welcome to the Keep Leading Podcast, the podcast dedicated to promoting leadership development and sharing leadership insights. Here’s your host, the Leadership Excelerator, Eddie Turner.
I recently had a vendor boast about not having changed his pricing structure and go-to-market strategy for over 30 years. I was shocked. What he saw as a source of pride, I saw as an hourglass filled with sand about to run out because organizations that don’t change may find themselves disintermediated. I believe it’s important for organizations and individuals to continue adapting with time even when it seems unnecessary. And this is one reason I want to talk about disruption and leadership. To do that, I’ve invited a very special guests who I’m really excited to have. I’ve invited Whitney Johnson. Whitney Johnson is one of the 15 leading business thinkers in the world. She is an expert on helping high-growth organizations develop high-growth individuals. She has codified her frameworks for developing high-growth individuals, the S-Curve of Learning and Personal Disruption Frameworks in the critically acclaimed book Disrupt Yourself and the award-winning book entitled Build An A-Team. In 2019, Whitney Johnson was ranked number three on the Global Guru’s Top 30 Organizational Culture Professionals. In 2017, she was selected from more than 16,000 candidates as a top 15 coach by none other than Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. Whitney is also a LinkedIn influencer. That means she has a lot of followers. To be a little bit more precise, over 1.7 million people follow Whitney Johnson on LinkedIn and she was selected as a top voice of 2018.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am super happy to have and to welcome Whitney Johnson.
Whitney, thank you for being on the Keep Leading Podcast.
So, when you think about what you just laid out, some people might say “Why not play it safe? Why go through all these changes?”
So, let me give you a few examples. Every time you work on a new project within, let’s say, neurosurgery or neuroscience, every time you work on a new project, every time you have a new team configuration, every time you move to a new location, every time you have a new boss, every time you make a decision to learn more about your industry or learn more about how to lead and gather a new group of scientists together or to convene people around a problem, every time you make a decision to become a better leader, all of those are instances where you are disrupting yourself. You’re still a rocket scientist or an astrophysicist or a neurosurgeon. So, you’re going deep but you’re still very much disrupting yourself because what disruption is at its simplest is it’s the decision to become a silly little thing so you can take over the world. And we become silly little things every time we make the decision to try to learn something new to do something differently than we did yesterday, to go through that discomfort of becoming a different person and trying something that we’ve never done before. We think that we do that all the time but the older and older we get it, the easier and easier and easier is to actually never do anything new. And so, that decision, even within a very, very deep understanding of an industry or a deep understanding of a discipline, there are still opportunities aplenty to disrupt yourself.
You actually have a seven-stage framework for personal disruption that can be a guide to people. Can you share that with us?
So, what are the seven steps? The first one is to take the right risks. And there are lots of different kinds of risks we can take. We tend to take on competitive risk. Competitive risk in your career life looks like there’s a job posting and it looks really exciting and really attractive but because it’s a job posting, there are going to be 20 other people applying for it. So, it’s competitive risk. You have to figure out if you can compete and when to get that spot. Market risk is this idea of you don’t know if there is a job but you see a problem that needs to be solved and you figure “I think I can solve that problem.” So, you go to your colleagues, you go to your manager and say “You know, I think this needs to be solved. Here’s how I propose pose we solve it.” If you can get the buy-in to do an experiment on how to solve that, then there aren’t going to be 10 people applying for that job. There’s going to be you because you came up with the idea. So, you’re taking on market versus competitive risk, which is why the odds of success are higher is that even though competitive risk feels less scary because it’s more certain, it actually is less certain because it’s much more competitive. One of my favorite quotes ever, and I think it came from Earl Nightingale, is that “Amateurs compete and professionals create.” So, that’s the first one.
So, number one is you take the right risks, you play where no one else is playing. Number two is you play to your distinctive strengths. And your distinctive strengths are things that you do well that people around you don’t. And a great example of this is the koala. So, you look at the koala, this cuddly little animal. It sleeps up to 20 hours a day. So, you’re like “All right, well, if it sleeps all the time, how does it eat?” Well, it survives because it eats something that no other animals can eat, which are eucalyptus leaves, because they’re poisonous. So, this is a strength but it’s also a distinctive strength. So, the challenge for us as people is to, number one, figure out what our strengths are. And a couple of clues I would give to you who are listening is, number one, pay attention to the compliments that you get. We tend to deflect compliments really quickly but every time someone gives you a compliment, they’re almost always handing you a card that says “Here’s one of your strengths.” It’s important that you figure out how to play to it. Another clue that you can get is what exasperates you, what frustrates you. Whenever you find yourself saying “Well, that’s just common sense. Everybody knows how to do that,” that, again, is a clue to something that you do extremely impossibly uniquely well.
The challenge, also, with your strengths is that you not only don’t always know what you do well but even when you do, because it’s so easy for you, it’s so reflexive for you, you don’t actually value it. So, every time in your career you have a boss or a colleague that says “Hey, Eddie, I want you to go do that thing,” you go “I don’t want to do that thing. That’s easy. And the fact that you’re asking me to do that thing must mean you don’t really value me but if you really value me, give me that hard thing to do over there.” And so, the challenge is to say “All right, well, I’m going to figure out not only what I do well. I’m going to own it. And then I’m going to be willing to do it. I’m going to do hard things,” within that domain expertise that we talked about earlier, “and then I’m going to go play where no one else is playing.” And when you’re willing to do those two things, you start to be able to disrupt yourself and be that high-growth individual that we talked about.
So, I’ll go through the other five really quickly. The third one is you embrace your constraints or disruption or the lack of time or money or expertise is not a check on your freedom. It’s actually a tool of creation. You look at the film Jaws. That came about not because Steven Spielberg had all the resources that he wanted at his disposal. It actually came about because the mechanical shark he wanted to use didn’t work. So, he had to shoot the scenes from the shark’s point of view and let the music. You can all hear it in your head, I’m sure, and our imagination do the rest.
Number four is battle our sense of entitlement. This is the belief that that we’re somehow owed or, if we’re not owed, that once things get really good, we deserve all of the success that we have but the moment that we start to believe that we’re owed or that we deserve success, we stop asking questions like “What can I do differently?” And so that S-Curve of Learning that we’re moving along, we start sliding back down that curve because the only way you keep growing is to ask questions of “What can I do differently? What can I do better?”
Number five, step back to grow. With disruption, it’s important to understand that you bring a fist back to punch, you crouch before you jump. Personal disruption involves moving sideways, backwards, sometimes down but recognizing that if you look at the theory more closely, which I won’t go into, a sideways move, a backwards move, when it comes to disruption, can very much be a slingshot.
Number six, give failure its due. And that is this idea that we all are going to make mistakes. I’ve had lots of mistakes. I bombed speeches in front of hundreds of people. I’ve been fired. I’ve backed businesses that imploded even though I was an investor and thought I was really good at it. The challenge with failure isn’t so much that we fail. We actually have to make those mistakes. That’s part of the iterating process or iteration process. The challenge is for us not to buy into the shame that can come with it. So, shame that limits disruption, not failure. I’m speaking to you you’re in Houston. One of your sisters in this world is Renee Brown. She talks a lot about shame. And what I would say is that it’s shame that limits disruption, not failure. And shame is something that we have to let go of because shame is about starting to believe that we’re fundamentally not worthy or worthwhile but that’s not what failure is. Failure is “Oh, I made a mistake. Let’s move on. What did I learn? What’s next, next, next?” It has nothing to do with our fundamental worthiness. So, we have to give failure its due but then choose success.
And then the last one is to be driven by discovery. This idea of you take a step forward, you gather feedback, and you adapt. And we all tend to think that we’re pretty good at walking into the unknown.
Do we have time for me to tell you one quick story around that?
So, those are the seven steps – take the right risks, play to your distinctive strengths, embrace constraints, battle your sense of entitlement, step back to grow, give failure its due. And then at the top of the curve, the bottom of the curve, and everywhere in between on the curve, be driven by your discovery.
We’re having a great conversation here with Whitney Johnson, a global influencer at all levels, and we’re talking about disruption and leadership. We’ll talk about more right after this.
This podcast is sponsored by Eddie Turner LLC. Organizations who need to accelerate the development of their leaders call Eddie Turner, the Leadership Excelerator. Eddie works with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact. Call Eddie Turner to help your leaders one on one as their coach or to inspire them as a group through the power of facilitation or a keynote address. Visit EddieTurnerLLC.com to learn more.
This is Lou Diamond from Thrive Loud with Lou Diamond and you are listening to the Keep Leading Podcast with Eddie Turner.
So, before the break, we spent a lot of time talking about personal disruption and the need for everyone, as a leader, as an individual to not get comfortable, disrupt yourself, continue to challenge yourself. So, Whitney, I would like to know if a listener is hearing this conversation and now, they’re wondering “Well, how can I disrupt myself as a leader or disrupt my team of leaders?”, how does this fit into a business context for leadership?
And then you get to the top of that S-Curve and it, again, levels out. And so, this is where people have become very good at what they’re doing. It’s easy-peasy but because they’re no longer learning, what are they not getting? They’re not getting dopamine. They can get slightly bored. And so, this is where, as opposed to being overwhelmed at the low end or the launch point of the curve, now they’re feeling a little bit underwhelmed and you as a manager need to say to yourself “Huh! If they feel this way too long, they’re either going to leave because they’re bored and bored people don’t tend to stick around or they’re going to get very complacent and that is really bad not only for them but definitely for us.” And so, what they need from you at the top of the curve is to challenge them. So, recapping really quickly is to recognize that every single person in your organization is on this S-Curve of Learning, including you. And when you have people at the low end or the launch point of the curve, they might feel overwhelmed. What they need from you at that point in time is just support. It may be in the form of more training. It may be in the form of your valuing the fact that they don’t know what they’re doing and they’re asking questions like “Why do we do it like this?”, which can help you innovate.
And then as you get into that steep part of the curve, it’s characterized for them by exhilaration. What they need from you is that focus, focus priorities, focus on them saying thank you and appreciate them. And then once they get the top, that for them is they tend to be underwhelmed and what they need from you is challenge. That challenge might be in the form of giving them more stretch assignments, really pushing them very hard, might be having them be a master to the apprentice or it might be having them jump to the bottom of a brand new S-Curve, this idea of you learn, then you leap, and you repeat. So, you build in this mechanism of personal disruption. They become high growth individuals and then you build a high-performing team by understanding where people are on the S-Curve of Learning. And then on that basis, then you manage them accordingly so that they can build momentum. So, that’s how you can use this S-Curve to manage your high-growth individuals and then how that aggregate into a high-performing team.
Now, you are considered one of the top coaches in the world. Marshall Goldsmith has this NG 100 Group, the top coaches, but you’re one of the original 15. And so, you are really a part of an elite group. And he had reasons for selecting you but then you are also an executive coach for the Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program. Talk to me a little bit about your coaching approach.
Another thing that informs the coaching is the stakeholder-centered coaching that I learned from Marshall Goldsmith of understanding that we all operate within an ecosystem. So, the best and fastest way for us to get better is to be aware of what we’re doing that will either help us be successful or hinder our success within that ecosystem, once we know what those ideas or behaviors are, to share that with our stakeholders and then employ them and engage them in helping us get better.
And two other things I would say is I’m really focused on strengths, this idea that we do need to figure out what can derail us or push us off of our current S-Curve of Learning but what will allow us to be truly great is to understand what we do idiosyncratically well and to really lean into that.
And then, finally, I would say, the last thing that informs my coaching is, number one, a lot of years of my own work with a union psychologist/therapist, so my own personal work that absolutely informs my work, this idea of the masculine and feminine characteristics and that to become a whole person, we need to be willing to develop both the masculine and the feminine – the masculine is the ability to wield power, the feminine is the ability to care and have compassion. So, this idea of a ship and a harbor, that absolutely informs my coaching.
And then, really, truly the last thing is just my faith tradition. And the part of my faith tradition that really informs the coaching is this idea of a free agency or free will that we were made to act and not be acted upon, that we can, in fact, get better, and that we can reprogram our mind to get better if we are willing to do it. So, there’s pretty much no problem that cannot be solved if we are willing to put in the work and the effort and to get the expertise and knowledge to solve that problem and to get better and to become the best version of ourselves.
Now, you have written a couple of different books. If someone is listening to this episode and wants to learn more about what you shared with us today, which would be the first book that they should start with?
Whitney, I have thoroughly enjoyed talking to you. Thank you for being a guest on the Keep Leading Podcast.
Thank you for listening to your host Eddie Turner on The Keep Leading Podcast. Please remember to subscribe to The Keep Leading Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen. For more information about Eddie Turner’s work please visit EddieTurnerLLC.com.
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The Keep Leading!™ podcast is for people passionate about leadership. It is dedicated to leadership development and insights. Join your host Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator® as he speaks with accomplished leaders and people of influence across the globe as they share their journey to leadership excellence. Listen as they share leadership strategies, techniques and insights. For more information visit eddieturnerllc.com or follow Eddie Turner on Twitter and Instagram at @eddieturnerjr. Like Eddie Turner LLC on Facebook. Connect with Eddie Turner on LinkedIn.