From the war room to the battlefield, the world was continually blowing up around Diana Prince. Yet Diana, aka Wonder Woman, never lost focus on why she left the safety of Themyscira for war-torn Europe: to stop the evil Ares and end the war. No matter what got in her way, no matter how often her path was blocked, she didn’t stop.
Living the life of a female disrupter is hard. But, that is what makes us so great. Wonder women are not just problem-solvers; they are opportunity creators, even during times of great crisis. The opportunity comes both from the process of solving a potentially fatal problem and from the new world order it eventually creates. While there are many ways to move beyond surviving to thriving during chaos, these three approaches are important tools to add to your disrupter arsenal.
Empowering your followers
When Emily Levy, CEO and co-founder of Mighty Well, found out in her teens that she had Lyme disease, she was faced with limited options to secure the port she has to wear for medication while also looking fashionable. From the chaos brought on by a chronic illness, Levy birthed a business and an industry with her Babson College undergraduate roommate. Multiple awards and recognitions aside, Emily is most proud of the team she has built. “My team is to a point where they can thrive, even in my temporary absence when I have to nap or go to a doctor appointment,” says Levy.
Lyme disease taught Levy to lean on others during times of chaos. As the smallest client Mighty Well’s manufacturer works with, Levy felt pushed aside when her company’s order and quality assurance testing lagged in favor of larger clients. With 500 units on backorder with a two-and-a-half-month delay, Levy sought advice from her advisors, co-founders and other experts. Armed with insight and an action plan, Levy bypassed the project manager and went directly to the manufacturer’s CEO.
“I had to take a strong stand to get the answers and product we needed to continue to grow our company and save the client relationships we had worked so hard to cultivate,” says Levy.
Levy’s advice: Remember your role is to lead. She says, “I learned that as the CEO of my company, I am the only one who can drive the company forward.”
When you are lucky enough to talk with Patricia A. Henriques, CEO of the Henlee Group, LLC, you get the sense that not much rattles her. Like Wonder Woman, she has several different leadership styles to ensure that she can guide stakeholders through any scenario. But, there are a few practices that permeate, no matter the situation.
“I am very focused and direct with a bias for action. There is no room for ego during times of crisis. There is just the problem to be solved,” says Henriques.
Henriques’s secret sauce to thriving even in adversity is based on that adaptive leadership style, keeping a clear head, maintaining focus on pragmatism, and helping her team navigate the difference between a “bodacious problem” and an opportunity disguised as a problem. “We gather data from all stakeholders, develop a plan that addresses challenges and the human factors associated with change. We then execute on the plan with minimal disruption to operations,” says Henriques.
Henriques’ advice: Don’t get distracted. She says, “I have been become skilled at compartmentalizing and shutting out noise when focused on solving a problem.”
Crisis happens especially when you are leading disruption, but it can also happen from outside factors. No matter if the chaos results from the disruption you are leading or a situation that is forced on you, things can go south pretty quickly if you doubt your team’s ability to succeed. This puts you in an environment where you must pave the way for your team to navigate through shifting sands and toward a new and steady normal.
While some leaders may want to paint a picture of sunshine and rainbows, women disrupters know that honesty is always the best policy. While remaining confident and positive that you and your team will realize your vision is necessary, wonder women always openly acknowledge the true context and constructs of their environments. Ignoring major problems puts your team at risk for not being prepared. It also puts you at risk. Think about it — would you trust a leader who didn’t seem to have a handle on reality? I wouldn’t either.
My advice: Minimize the power of people who intentionally derail you. Sometimes distractions are intentional. Your job is to not let potential derailers gain the power they need to distract you, your team or your stakeholder. Train your team to understand the situation and the mindset of derailers. This will give them what they need to create the right strategy to get beyond the barriers being purposely placed on the path to transformation.