I had the opportunity to talk with a former staff member who remembered a very specific conversation I had with him when he first started working at the same university where I was a vice president. Even though this was over twenty years ago, he recounted all the details of when I told him that I heard he was “an instigator” and how he lost sleep that night worrying about whether or not I thought that was a good thing. (It was!)

While I have absolutely zero recollection of the conversation, I absolutely believe that I said it because I was always on the lookout for those who could be accomplices in my change efforts. Instigators are a positive force in an organization — great hires, really — as long as their “instigations” are related to the same vision as the organization. If you find someone who is willing to bust some barriers, question assumptions, take calculated risks, and push the envelope in service of helping to achieve a stretch goal, you should embrace that person instead of calling them out for their disruptions.

It is easy to be threatened, fearful, or suspicious of those who rattle the status quo, but they are how change happens. Nurture that instigator if you’re fortunate enough to have one, and be brave enough to be one yourself.

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