Disabling ‘Yes’ Mode: the Career Changing Power of Disruption

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Creating impact is a non-negotiable ingredient in a successful leadership career. If you don’t create an impact, you can make a difference.

‘Yes’ mode is like being on autopilot at work; we agree to the same old ways of doing things with little or no input from our conscious brains. We learn to put up with and find workarounds for well-known issues and challenges because we can go into cruise control and the job still gets done. We’ve stopped actively engaging in the edgier, more risky job of manual control of our environment, work and results. We become non-thinking.

There are various ways to create impact it’s true, but one of the quickest ways to do this, and the most effective, is to turn off ‘yes’ mode and begin to respectfully disrupt your environment.

Before you spit your coffee everywhere and leave this page, let’s take a closer look at what that really means – and then I’ll share with you a model for how you can do this with a minimum of unease and the maximum amount of success.

Disruption is nothing new; it’s a term coined by Clayton Christensen in the 1990s. It’s  often used to describe new, innovative start-up businesses, who’s arrival in the marketplace shakes up the established order, often leading to the demise of the existing, longer standing business models as the marketplace becomes transformed. Uber, Netflix and AirBandB are often cited as examples of marketplace disruptors.

Disruptive leadership refers to leaders who look for better ways to do things – they look at systems and processes and consider new solutions and approaches to get results. This isn’t about being disruptive for the sake of it, but rather, it’s a way of improving outcomes. It’s results focused.

And as an emerging leader, it’s a great way to make yourself more visible and raise your profile.

You don’t need to be Steve Jobs, who is often widely quoted as an example of a disruptive leader. Maybe you’re not in the position of being able to effect change on such a grand scale, but it’s still a useful concept that you can put into practice.

In my recent book, Strategies for Being Visible, I share the experience of Nicky Ness, the Director of Forces Broadcasting and Entertainment, who found a way to keep the radio station at which she worked (as a broadcast assistant) open, through determination, the right mindset and taking bold, inspired action:

 “I found a way to keep the station open. It was about using my knowledge of how the MOD worked in Gibraltar, who the decision makers were here at HQ in the UK, knowing where the non-public money was and coming up with a plan that would put all of those things together to keep the station open and that’s what I did. That’s part of the legacy that people still talk about now.”

Nicky kept the station open for two years with volunteers before funding was restored and she became the station manager. She’s now the Director. As you can see, part of what she did was to identify exactly who she needed to speak to, which is precisely what she did at a dinner, when she looked at the guest list and asked to be seated next to a key decision-maker.

Being disruptive takes guts and will almost certainly make you feel uncomfortable. There’s also the chance that those around you may not like it much either at first. However, nothing notable in the grand scheme of things has ever been achieved without some kind of disruption (in its widest sense of the word) somewhere along the line. The model below can help provide a framework to get you started.

I’ve written before about the usefulness of not following the rules Following the Rules Will Stop Your Career in its Tracks.  The model here will form the basis of an approach that will help to raise your profile and at the same time benefit your team, department or organisation on a wider scale, depending on what you come up with.

Disruptive Model


Being disruptive means finding new approaches and ways of doing things. It’s not about being difficult or awkward for the sake of it. You need to have carefully considered your current environment and be convinced that there is a better way to do things – and in most organisations, there is. In this sense, being disruptive is a gift.  You are working for the benefit of everyone around you, to support your organisation, team etc. and as such, this requires that you work with integrity – preserving your own and that of the workplace. You’re looking for new solutions to problems, challenges and issues.

It’s this mindset and orientation that will ensure that you’re coming from the right place as you begin to do things differently. It will also help to shore up any moments of self-doubt; working towards and engaging with a vision is a huge motivator that can help to quieten down any inner voice that threatens to de-rail you.


Changing your style can bring about a big impact. Begin questioning instead of agreeing. Be surprising instead of predictable. Assert your ideas instead of swallowing them. Test out a hypothesis. Challenge others. Generate ideas. Try a new way to improve an existing process and don’t wait for permission. Now this might sound like a tall order but it’s worth trying out as you’ll have evidence up your sleeve to illustrate your ideas and convince others that they’re workable.

Engage in small experiments and see what happens. And if you need some help to get things moving, begin by changing your own routines and ways of doing things. Take a different route to work, do something out of your routine at lunchtime, begin to listen to a podcast you’d normally ignore, read a new author, attend a performance that you wouldn’t normally consider, talk to someone new over the course of your day.

Begin to disrupt your own world first and get used to how that feels.


This is the third piece of the puzzle. Someone needs to know. Who would be the best person to share your ideas and solutions with? Does this always have to be your own manager? Is your colleague the best person to tell? When would be a good time?  Where would be the ideal platform? Decisions are often made before meetings – get used to the idea of a pre-meeting and become good at having them. Who else would be a good person to involve and provide support? Is there a key influencer whose involvement would improve your chances of success? Think about the way you express yourself too; aim to be clear, concise and confident. Practice the language you’ll use beforehand.

You’ll need all three parts of this puzzle, or you run the risk of it not quite coming together for you.

Mindset + Action = great ideas that may not be noticed by the right people

Action + Tell = the realm of self-doubt, as we may not have the most supportive inner mechanisms in place

Mindset + Tell = not getting off the starting blocks – or else your ideas may end up in someone else’s hands


Engage the most helpful mindset, begin taking some action and then find the right people to tell in a timely manner

Being disruptive – changing the status quo and finding new solutions to improve results – is a way of raising your profile and becoming more visible. If you want to move your career onto new heights, then this a sure-fire way to put yourself on the map.

My recently published book Strategies for being Visible: 14 profile-Raising Ideas for Emerging Female Leaders contains a plan with practical, in-depth ways to apply ideas for making sure you stand out from the crowd and take control of your career,is available as a paperback, an audiobook and for the Kindle reader.

one_to_one_coachingI’m Susan Ritchie and I help emerging leaders to develop their presence and impact, so they can be seen, heard and take their careers to whatever height they choose. Make a start on your career journey by downloading a free copy of the Communicate with Impact Grid