Ep. 209: Michael Teape – From disrupted to disruptors: How leaders win in challenging times

November 28, 2022 | 30 Minutes

Management coach and training expert Michael Teape returns to Count Me In to share insights for leaders dealing with constant “disruptions” to their businesses. Adam and Michael discuss how easy it is for leaders to feel like they are always playing defense and how a change in mindset at the top can help businesses pivot, innovate, and execute in the face of adversity.

Contact Michael Teape: https://www.linkedin.com/in/teapetraining/

Teape Training International (TTI): https://www.teapetraininginternational.com

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Full Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00]       < Intro >
Adam:            Welcome back to Count Me In. I'm Adam Larson from IMA, or the Institute of Management Accountants. For those of us joining us for the first time. I'm excited to welcome back Michael Teape to the podcast. Michael is a seasoned management coach and the co-founder and president of Teape Training International.
Today, we discuss the tips for leaders in the face of constant disruption to business as usual. With Covid, inflation, supply chain issues, technology changes, leaders need to stop bracing for the next curve ball, and instead look for ways they can adapt to find new paths to success. 
It was great to get Michael's insight and optimism on this important topic. Let's get the conversation started. 
[00:00:45]       < Music >
Michael, thank you so much for coming back to Count Me In. We've talked about being more productive at work and maximizing our human capital management, in the past with you. But today we're going to focus in on the disrupted leader. And I figured we can start off by what do we mean by the disrupted leader, and how are leaders being disrupted?
Michael:         I think it's easier to say, "How are they not being disrupted? "
Adam:            Yes. 
Michael:         Because, I think, when you're a leader in your organization and everyone thinks about what's going on? What are the challenges right now? There's some common themes that are only getting quicker, faster, more challenging. So you can think of climate change. Climate change has a huge impact on how we work? Where we work? All of those, and safety elements of that as well. 
Social change; the diversity of the people we work with now, that's been being disrupted. We're not all in the office in one place, that's another part of social change as well. Covid-19, I mean, hello? Last three years, it's been a real challenge. And that's one of the biggest ones because it was an unknown challenge. 
The others climate, social, and the last one, technology. The technology revolution, what they call the fourth industrial revolution, are the four key areas I see right now, and there'll be more. There'll be more things that come along, let alone the small challenges of running a business. Issues with clients, lack of clients, too many clients, things not going well with clients, disruption on so many levels. 
So now we've cheered your audience up. And, so, it is not an easy place. It's more about how we react to it, and technology is one of the biggest ones. That fourth industrial revolution talking about the technology revolution. It's that people are coming up with intuitive ways of breaking our systems and doing things differently. If you have an organization that's run on mainframe systems, spreadsheets, there are so much things available to skip all of that.
Fintech, the financial technologies that really don't have any of those and are just very simply making connections, using the technology in front of them quicker, faster, cheaper, that's a huge part that's going on as well. So, yes, where are they not being disrupted, Adam?
Adam:            Exactly, I think, you hit it on the nose, there's so much disruption happening all over. But when you're thinking about, as a leader yourself, if I'm thinking about my team and how I act with my team. Yes, there's so many outside disruptions. What does it look like, for me, if I want to look upon myself and how am I being disrupted? And what does a disrupted one look like? Because you don't want to stay there, obviously.
Michael:         No, it's a stressful place to be, being disrupted, you're playing defense. You're frustrated that things aren't working, which causes stress. Which also limits our vision and our focus. A lot of being creative and getting ourselves out of these issues, by thinking of new things that we could do to face a challenge and move forward. 
So, yes, that looks like, and I'll say this, Adam, a lot of the time we don't realize we're in this space. Call it the disruptive leader, we don't know that we're acting in a certain way because we're under stress. We've got our blinkers on, like, "My business is not making money.
How are we going to make some money?" And being stressful, following up on one particular client who's never going to give you the money is a blinkered approach. You need to be looking at, "Well, what could I do to create another million dollars?" Depending on the size of your organization; 50, 100, million. "What could I be doing?"
So they're disrupted, they're blind to the problem, really. And what I mean by that is that they're focused on the minute, the tactical, trying to get the number of accounts, trying to charge more per client. When really the problem is maybe what I'm offering the client is not what they're looking for. Have you ever thought about that? And that would be a curious mindset. 
So being blind to the problem is all about losing your focus overall and focusing on the minutiae and doing… Have you ever heard that adage, "If you're ever doing the same thing and expecting a different result, that's a definition of insanity." I love that term, that phrase. So that's where someone would be stuck, that would be one of them. 
And that links into the other one is having no direction, no purpose, and what I mean is that; where are we going? Where do I want to go? And I think I shared on our last podcast, a little bit, I'll have to go back and have a little look at it, maybe your listeners would do as well. Is that I was working with a client who was totally disrupted by Covid. 
They were a Fintech. They were 30% growth they were aiming at and it just disappeared overnight. Because people didn't need to manage cash flow because they weren't out spending cash. And, so, the flow was very different and it wasn't where their market was. But instead of panicking this person found the purpose. Well, her purpose was to take over the world and help the cash management globally, however, that's not possible right now. 
So I believe it's coming back but let's focus on rebuilding what we have. The mergers, the acquisitions, being more efficient. Let's focus on fixing what we have, and we have a dream time right now. Let's not think of it as, "Oh, my goodness, we're not going to grow this year." We've already made revenue, so let's take the panic off the table. 
But wouldn't it be great if we had the time to fix all the efficiencies and the mergers, now? Well, guess what, they have and they got excited about that and moved forward. So that's someone who's found purpose in the disruption that's happening around them. What they could have done, not having purpose, is knuckle down, and, "Well, we need to get more accounts. Go sell, go meet everyone in the industry, sell."
But you're not going to sell something that people don't need right now. So you're banging your head on a brick wall. So I'm talking about banging your head on a brick wall, not thinking about what you're trying to achieve, overall adjusting. And that leads me onto the third one, which is, do you have a psychologically safe environment or not? 
If you're under stress, Adam, employees, that work for you, are going to feel the stress in the way you talk to them, not making it safe, shouting. Blaming people, "Well, why didn't you make the sales? I asked you to go and get some more sales."
And that leads me, really, nicely into the next session of not allowing people to express their ideas, and thoughts, and fail, and not a safe environment. If we are too busy pushing our employees to go out and sell something that isn't possible, or make something better in the disrupted environment. We don't have the clients right now; they don't want what we offer. 
There's no use shouting or blaming them, and that is really when a leader is under stress, that's where they're coming from. They're blaming others. When really you should be like, "Well, where does the blame actually really sit?" Is it with the person you told to do an impossible objective and they're not bringing back a result? Or is it with the person who sent them on this mission? On a mission that they're never going to achieve? So let's think of it in that way. 
But what we do is we lash out, we complain. We get frustrated at people that don't bring us results. But they can't bring us results if they're not focused on what's going to work. So that's a huge piece; is you're not going to get people thinking differently, helping us get us out of a challenge, by shouting at them. 
You need to create what's called a psychologically-safe environment. And then the last thing a disrupted leader would be is, "I need to build something new." Or, "I need to rebuild this product, and I'll spend a lot of time working on that and releasing something perfect."
But the problem with that is that by the time they've done that, the world's moved on. So I feel as though they can't really balance execution with innovation. It's like, "Well, we've had some great ideas, but I just can't get it executed." And that's a fact. 
So blind to the problem, it's as denial really. Not focusing on the purpose and direction, focusing on the day-to-day. How you talk to employees. So that psychological-safe environment, being blunt, and blaming others is not going to help. 
And, lastly, is spending too long executing something and releasing, what you think the environment wants. When really you need to be checking in a lot quicker on that. So they're really the four areas where leaders get disrupted. And I'm sure your listeners can feel the pressure in one or a multitude of those.
Adam:            Yes, I'm sure many can relate, especially, with what everybody's gone through in the last three years, with Covid. But the other examples you gave have been going on for longer than that. I wanted to shift the conversation to the other side of it. We've talked about disrupted, and there's something else that you and I were discussing is the disruptor or the disruptor leader. Can we talk about what that means, as an opposite, I guess?
Michael:         Sure, yes, so if you are disrupted, that usually means you're in a psychologically unsafe place, you're in an away state. You're blaming others, you're frustrated, you're worried about loss, losing something, and you're on the defensive. 
None of this is going to be useful when you're facing a challenge or your business is facing a challenge or challenges, in helping you getting unstuck and moving forward. And then the opposite of disruptive is to be a disruptor. And that's someone who's more forward-thinking, curious. Like, "Oh, this is interesting, this is different. This feels totally different; we've never had this before. What's causing this?"
Or, "What are our clients really looking for? What support do they want from us and our team?" And that's an open way of looking at the environment, it's a growth mindset, really, not a fixed mindset.
Looking at the environment, being open, humble, hungry to learn what's really going on. Going and talking to people, listening to what people have to say in podcasts, and reading the latest of where the industry might be going based on what's happening right now. So that opens it up, that allows you to see the landscape in order to find your place in it. So that would be the first thing, rather than being blind to the problem. 
And then I talked about purpose. So people say, "Yes, I know my purpose." But do they? They know that their purpose is to get the reports in for a client, management accounting, there are certain tactical things. But what's my purpose overall? Is my purpose to stay in business? That's more reactionary and proactive. 
So I encourage leaders, if you want to get unstuck is ask, "Well, what do I want to do for my clients?"
"What do I want to do for my profession?" And it helps open us up a little bit. 
"Yes, I want to achieve that. How else could I achieve that?"
There's a client that I work for in the insurance industry. Very specific and very good at what they do, and a very specific market. But they're reaching saturation point, so really that's a challenge. It's none of the industrial challenges I talked about, although, it will be when they have to update the systems. 
But they are looking at different ways of helping their clients, and they're offering training for their specific housing associations that they support. Training on how to be effective, how to mitigate their losses, how to less the insurance claims. So they've gone into this whole different submarket that there's a need. Thousands of their clients are signing up to listen to training courses on a subscription basis for them.
I mean, it's genius but it came from wanting to serve your clients, helping them. "What challenges do my clients face?" It didn't come from, "I need to sell more insurance policies." So that's a big area. 
And the last two is if you want people to be creative, it's got to be okay for people to come up with ideas that don't work. It's they've got to be... but that, then, leads me to the last one is let's be quick to fail. "Let's try something real quick. Let's keep it in a two-week turnaround."
Two weeks, "Is this going to work or not? We've got two weeks, let's play with it. Let's work with it. Can we test it? Can we release it?"
So it's a bit like project management that has moved to the agile mindset, which a lot of your listeners will know about. And that's all about scrums and, very quickly, what can we produce in two weeks? Boom. We're just going to sprint, get that out there, and then adjust. 
There's no point in my world, my learning world, there's no point in me spending six months to release a leadership and development program. Because I'll be out of date by who knows what's going to happen. And it'll need to be adjusted as soon as I've released, it'll be old news. So think of that and what we are doing for our clients is, are we hitting what they really need? 
Are we curious enough to know what they really need and are we releasing things quickly? So that helps people to experiment, it makes them feel safe. "We'll, give it a go." 
And, "Yes, we want it to be successful, but we're not going to be upset if it doesn't. We're going to learn from it and quickly adjust to find something that does work." So that would be my advice, open, forward-facing. A clear overall purpose, making it safe for people to experiment, safe to fail and expect some things will not work. 
And, lastly, do it quick enough. Do short bursts super quick, and that helps you to stay agile, for want of a better word, in a disrupted world.
Adam:            Yes, so if I'm hearing you, correctly, it sounds like the first step of going from disrupted to disruptor is a mindset thing?
Michael:         Yes.
Adam:            Because you've gone over a lot of very practical steps. But I think the first step seems to be a mindset because you need to change the way you think about things and see things, and then really figure out your why, in a sense. So that you can understand where your business is going and where you want to go.
Michael:         Yes, I mean, you've got to look outward not inward. That's the first thing is, if you are looking for result and answers within, and spending too much time looking at processes, that's not going to help you focus on that. And don't be afraid to go broad beyond what your limit is.
Like I said with the insurance example, who thought the training would be useful? And it actually brings back clients, it helps in so many different ways. You become a trusted resource to the client and it doesn't cost much to do it. So what else have we got? Really, it's making sure that we are hungry and curious to find out what's going on with the people we serve. 
Adam:            Mm-hmm. 
Michael:         That's it. Forget Your Troubles, that's the song, I know. So forget your troubles and focus on the client.
Adam:            And one thing that we had talked about before, that I remember seeing in a report that we were discussing. It was saying that, "Safety drives courage, and courage drives experimentation." And I think that's a huge element, that when you feel safe, you feel that more emphasis to be able to, "Hey, I can make mistakes and I can do things, because this is..." 
It's almost like, "I'm in a sandbox right now, I can do everything I need to do. And, yes, things may break but it's okay and we can fix it and get it back together." And I think that's really important, especially, for organizations and for employees who feel this. When things are disrupted the employees feel it the most, because it trickles down to them. And, so, for them to create that safe environment, it's not easy but it's essential.
Michael:         You have to create, and that's what leaders don't realize, is that if they're frustrated, and they're worried, and they're concerned, your employees take the lead from you. The way you walk into the room, the way you describe the situation. So you could say, "Oh, we've got a big problem, we've lost 90% of our revenue." Which happened to me and a number of other people, they lost all their revenue, at the beginning of Covid, because everything just stopped. 
Adam:            Yes. 
Michael:         You could come in like, "Oh, my goodness, yes, we've lost a 100% of our revenue. I don't know what we're going to do, but we're going to try and find out. I need you to go and see if we can get some more money." That's pushing people in an away state. Oh, my goodness, it's scaring them.
What you want to do, is to get them into a place where they can scenario plan, and that needs to be a calm area. Where people can adapt and say to them, "Look, the way we've earned money has paused for the moment, with Covid. 
It's no surprise that people have stopped doing whatever it is that you are doing, across all these industries. So how can we help our clients through Covid? What is it that we could do, with everything we've got available to us, our resources, our knowledge, how can we serve them? How can we help them?" 
And that puts people, just by using that phrase, in a curious mindset, a forward mindset. And they're like, "Yes." That you are focusing them on helping serve people. Rather than worrying about the facts that your current revenue stream has dried up. Do you see what I'm saying there, Adam?
Adam:            Yes.
Michael:         It's a very different way. Just by the way a leader phrases problems to their team. It gives them that unleashing of potential and it creates, say you are creating a little bubble around your group, and focusing them on being curious, and trying to help move things forward.
Adam:            What role has things like diversity, equity, and inclusion had in this disrupted versus disruptor relationship? Because I can imagine that it is a big part of it and it's becoming a big part, especially in our world society today. Of the things that have happened over the last hundreds of years have brought us to this point. What role does it play when trying to become disruptor versus disrupted?
Michael:         Well, it has an immediate value to a leader, and I'm not sure that everybody really realizes that. It's having, "Wouldn't it be great if I could have all these different ways of thinking in my team and thought process?" Because they're more likely to come up with creative and different ideas to help us with this challenge. So that's the first thing. So diversity, equity, inclusion, which then equals to belonging, are all strapped together, they're a flow. 
So I like the analogy of diversity, making sure that everybody got invited to the party. So there's a party, making sure that we invited everyone, that's a diversity aspect. Trying to get as many different people there and thoughts.
But then thinking, "Well, the equity is allowing them to get to the party, access the party, physical access, be able to hear the music, see the music. If you can't hear it can they access this? Is it on the fifth floor of a walk-up building, setting things like that. But the equity is equitable, so all those diverse people can access it. 
And then, lastly, everyone is being asked to dance, they're been included. There's nobody sat on the bench. They're like, "No, everyone come up and dance."
Now, you know when you've got it right because belonging is affected, belonging is released. And belonging is a sense that you feel as though you belong. The fact that you are very diverse from all the other people you're working with, you belong. 
So equate that to a party. That's when I've invited everyone over to the dance floor and they're all dancing like no one is watching because they feel they're comfortable, they feel they belong. 
Wouldn't it be great if you had all of your people feeling like they belong? They could suggest stuff. Well, they understand the purpose but they're free to make suggestions. They're not looking over, "Well, I don't want to say that because my team leader is here and he's going to laugh at that idea." 
And there's a lot of examples we use in our training case studies, that show companies that have helped themselves get out of a hole and a challenge. And it always came down to having as wide of a spectrum of people to pull from. 
But then they felt comfortable to share some ideas, and they came up with crazy ideas that would never work. But then that leads to the not so crazy idea that they've never thought of that does work. So that's how I see diversity, equity and inclusion, really, a powerful tool here in getting the right people to help you with the problems.
Adam:            It almost seems like that when you get to that point that, what you describe, almost, seems utopic. That place that we may never attain to but I feel like we should be working toward that moment, where everybody can feel like they can dance and nobody is watching. And I think that would create the resilience that organizations need to keep going forward, in a sense.
Michael:         Yes, but the leader is focused on their troubles and their challenges. But if you can focus on, "Hey, I want to create this environment where my people feel that they could say, 'What if? Oh, have you thought about this? I've never thought about maybe we could do this.'" 
And you can do that with small exercises in the group. You don't have to spend money; you can get a group together. How you do brainstorming, innovation, creativity, there's plenty of examples and tips out there. You can just do with a team in a conference room.
And one of my favorite examples is a colleague of mine, Jane Thompson, she does her work in the Asia-Pacific region. And she uses this case study of the problem of electricity companies in Alaska, where ice would form on the electrical wires. So we have in America, on those poles, and it would bring down the wires, and they could never keep up with it. 
They were like, "Well, how do we get rid of the ice on the wires?" So they had a huge brainstorming event, they came up with all kinds of things. The crazy idea was, "We're going to put honey on top of the wire, the telephone wire pole." And they're like, "Well, why would you do that?"
"Well, so the grizzly bears will come up" or whatever type of bear, I'm being a little bit exclusive, diverse, I'd say. Any type of bear that likes honey would climb up and in doing so would shake the pole and knock the ice off. 
Now, do you think that would actually work? 
Adam:            It doesn't sound like it.
Michael:         It's a crazy idea. And we use this in our training to say, "Well, why would you come up with that?" But then it opened their minds up so much they came up with the actual solution. And all you got to do, they found out, is hire a helicopter, on those winter days, just after the precipitation has fallen, and hover over the wires and it blows the ice off of your wires, and you don't have the problem with broken wires. 
No one would've thought of that before, no one. But they had to go there first. So, like you said, you have to aim for everyone feeling like they can dance, so no one is watching. You may never reach that, but that's not the point, the fact point is you're trying to open up their thought process because then they will access the real ideas afterwards. So that's just one example of many that are out there, that people can look up quite easily.
Adam:            So we've been going a lot through this conversation, I think, it's been really helpful. But there's one thing I keep wondering in the back of my head is for that disrupted leader, who's trying to become the disruptor. 
How do you still deal with the fact that, there is always going to be those minutiae things that are still there. They're still going to be there. How do you get past that or how do you still deal with those things? Because they're still there and they have to be dealt with, but also you want to expand your mind to these bigger things. So that you can become the disruptor and become a better leader, in a sense.
Michael:         Well, I think, the fact is we're in this situation. And, so, you know in a month's time that you might go out of business or you need to get some game by the end of the month. Just by the changing the way you are acting straight away. 
I'm not asking people to do extra work, I'm asking them to change the way they're talking, change the way they're interacting. Don't bother phoning up all the clients you know are not going to give you the business. Let's spend a bit more time looking at what people really need and talking to people in the industry. Do you see what I mean? 
Doing all of these things that I mentioned before, on a day-to-day basis. And say to yourself, "Okay, the first week, we need to pick something that might work great. We're going to try this, two weeks' time, if it doesn't work, we'll try something else or if it works a bit we'll adjust it."
So that's, that's the only real way through this because you can sit and worry about something that you know, "If we don't fix this, we're going out of business in a month or we're going to have to do something else." Let's get on board early. Change the way we're meeting; change the way we're talking to people. 
If you have a one-to-one catch up stop talking about updates that you know in the current market composition that we have an end date, stop talking about that. Start thinking about, "What if?" Talking about what if in your one-to-ones. 
So that would be my biggest recommendation. It's going to happen, so you need to get on board with, "Hey, if I keep doing the same stuff it's going to fail. 
So what can I do differently in the way I talk to people, where I'm looking for answers. Change who I'm talking to in the market. Let's try and unleash this, but know that whatever we come up with in the first week, we're going to try and move forward.
[00:28:53]       < Outro >
Announcer:    This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.