What every leader needs to know in a brave new world.
It’s a rogue new perspective–changing the way we approach almost everything. From the way we eat, date, travel, and even the way we buy houses and cars, technology is currently disrupting almost every industry. But how does all this disruption change the way we lead people?
Curious about how disruptive businesses are changing leadership, I reached out to the East Valley Partnership–an organization that supports the cities that make up the eastern communities outside Phoenix, Arizona. I wanted to see if they could introduce me to some disruptive companies–as many companies from the Silicon Valley have moved to the area to seek less expensive land, more lenient regulations, and a workforce who might desire a suburban lifestyle.
On a recent daylong visit to the East Valley, I got to meet leaders from Carvana–the first automotive company to offer customers the opportunity to buy a car from a vending machine. I had lunch with leaders from Offerpad–an online real estate platform where home sellers can get a fair and fast purchase offer online, without the hassles of traditional selling.
I also toured the warehouses of DUFL–a company changing the rules of travel as they store your clothes, pack your suitcase, and have it shipped to your destination so you’ll never drag your bag through an airport again. I even visited the offices and fire station of the Town of Queen Creek, which, for a small government organization, seemed to break all the governmental stereotypes–the workspaces were modern and collaborative, and people also loved their leaders.
Within each entity, I wasn’t only impressed by how these organizations were abruptly disrupting entire industries by their unique product propositions, but I was also curious as to how they were building cultures, engaging employees, and changing the way leaders lead. And, from these innovators, here are six things I learned about how they’re being disruptive as leaders of people.
All of the companies I visited were founded on the idea of disruption. And, as I spoke to employees at each and asked them about what they like about working for their company, “They do things differently here,” was the common theme in their responses. People loved working for companies and leaders who both embrace and create change.
Set the new bar
When you create a business that hasn’t really existed before, you’ve got to set a high bar. Witnessing the way DUFL not only cares for the clothes of its customers but also packs a suitcase with surgical precision, employees understand they must live up to the ‘wow factor’ with each job. And, while chatting with numerous employees, it was obvious that this attention to service through detail was truly part of the company’s culture and personality.
Every organization I visited was extremely high in energy. When I asked employees what they liked most about their leaders, “I feel appreciated,” and “like part of a family,” were the most common answers. In fact, Constance Halonen-Wilson, Public Information Officer for the Town of Queen Creek told me, “People honestly cheer for each other here. We really like the people we work with.”
Imagine meshing the cultures of a tech company, a real estate company, and a construction company. “We are scaling so quickly, and hiring so rapidly, from many different industries,” said Cortney Read, Director of Communications at Offerpad. “We need to be consistently focused on our people and merging together different backgrounds, cultures, and trades. This company was founded on evolving the old ways, while embracing the differences from various industries. We’re always looking for better ways to go above the status quo.”
It’s no secret that many people fear the so-called ‘old way’ of buying a car. Carvana made a huge statement in the industry by not only creating the car vending machine, or offering delivery to your home, but also by simplifying the online buying experience. They explored new ways. And, just by walking through the corporate headquarters, it’s obvious to see that creative exploration is a core part of the company culture–the desire to try something new, daring, and different.
When it comes to disrupting an industry, there is nothing more critical than belief–in a new product, process, or approach. When it comes to leading people, belief is just as important. But, it’s not just if your people believe in your ability as a leader. You must truly believe in them–to trust that they’ll help you bust through to the future.
It’s not always the case that the most innovative thinkers become the best leaders. But, still, there’s something we all can learn from organizations who disrupt entire industries–that the constant desire to create ‘what-ought-to-be,’ often becomes ‘the way things are.’