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Calling All Troublemakers

You are needed to do the things that are truly meaningful.

We love disruptors. They are the ones who help us all move forward. Who call out the things we are afraid to see. Who are courageous enough to name the elephant under the carpet that needs to be named…not just because…but so we can move on. Oftentimes, the superpower of disruptors is they can see the bigger picture. And when they step forward with their heart, their courageous authenticity helps the rest of us be less afraid and move forward. Yet, too often these folks are branded troublemakers and told to be nice, tow the line, be quiet.

As champions of disruption, imagine how excited we were to see a keynote session by Luvvie Ajayi Jones at the Work Human Conference, titled Professional Troublemaker. We had no way of knowing what we were about to experience and the impact it would have on us. Oh wait…isn’t that the true impact of troublemakers?!

Luvvie Ajayi Jones enthralled the crowd. Her mission was to recruit more troublemakers into the world, and in particular into the workplace. To do this, she offered us a new perspective of who troublemakers are. Luvvie claims a professional troublemaker is not someone who brings chaos into the room, but one who “critiques the world, the shoddy systems, and the people who refuse to do better.” A professional troublemaker is someone who uses their voice for a greater good by saying the unpopular. The world needs these voices, but too often it can be risky to speak out and these important voices are silenced.

Luvvie notes our silence is an expression of fear. We are all afraid: afraid of asking for what we want; afraid of being different; afraid of being too much or not enough. But in order to do the things that are truly meaningful, Luvvie recruits each of us to find the “professional troublemakers” within us. To not let fear stop us from doing or saying what is needed. This doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid. The point is that we move past our fear, so we can do the things that are more significant than our fears.

If you are weighing whether it’s safe to go there, to be the professional troublemaker at the table, there are four powerful questions to ask:

  • Do I mean it?
  • Can I defend it?
  • Can I say it thoughtfully?

If the answers are yes, then say it. And if you still aren’t sure, ask yourself:

  • Will my silence or inaction convict me?
  • When people are brave enough to speak out, they make the work and the workplace better. How?

As an individual, own your impact by speaking your truth. And say it in a way that it can be heard. That means knowing it’s YOUR truth, not THE truth, and expressing it as such. You aren’t showing up to make others uncomfortable, but to bring about new perspectives. This means knowing how to speak up in a way that doesn’t take over the room, but allows for others to speak up too. Think about: how can you get them to listen to you? How can you say it in a different way? Are they ready to hear the truth? Read the room and find a way to bring up what is needed, when the time is right, even if it feels uncomfortable. Remember, curiosity is the antidote to judgment.

As a leader, own your impact by encouraging the voices of your troublemakers; seek out the voice of disruptors. Make it safe for them to speak up, to speak their truth. Allow space for disruptive questioning, normalize this within your organization. These contrary voices will make the work better through questions and inquiry. They will broaden how you are seeing a particular situation or issue. By making room for their voice, you demonstrate it is safe for others to speak up. Troublemakers elevate the room they are in, especially if it is a room full of “yes” people.

As Luvvie says: “Chances are, you want to become someone who is able to make change happen with their words. You want to be BOLD in the face of fear when it’s time to speak up or do something difficult. You want to be someone who is willing to speak the truth with love whenever possible.”

We look forward to hearing about the troublemaker in you and what it takes to give yourself permission to speak up. Because humanity works because of YOU!

Kate and Debbie