Some of the most famous leaders in global business could be characterised as disruptive leaders. Apple’s Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Tesla’s Elon Musk all have traits associated with disruptive leadership. But what does the term mean?
What is disruptive leadership?
This type of leader is someone who’s not satisfied with the status quo and convention in business. If they identify an opportunity to improve processes or the way things are done, they’re not frightened to push for it – even if it requires wholesale changes to be made.
That’s why it’s called disruptive leadership: because it has the potential to upend and dismantle entire organisations and sectors. As well as being revolutionary, their ideas are often highly creative, presenting consumers with attractive new solutions and propositions.
What are the 7 traits of disruptive leaders?
Disruptive leaders are usually lifelong learners, who never stop asking ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’ They gain insights wherever they can, including unconventional sources.
Many disruptive leaders shun established business practices and conventions, often seeing them as obstacles to be removed.
Disruptive leaders always have a ‘big idea’. It’s usually one that vastly improves the customer experience or a product, so much so that it can prove incredibly popular. They’re also adept at recognising how organisations can become more efficient and they can be ruthless in their streamlining drives.
Having found their ‘big idea’ or innovation, leaders of this type are fearless in their belief in it. They often show an unshakeable conviction and determination that can pull people along on their journey, brushing difficulties off along the way.
They realise that difficult, sometimes uncomfortable decisions have to be made and don’t hesitate to make them if those decisions bring their vision closer to becoming a reality.
When long-established practices and beliefs are not just challenged, but torn down, resistance is inevitable. So disruptive leaders must be able to convince people that their ideas are worth investing in – and win followers over to their side.
Despite the single-minded belief in their visions, disruptive leaders can nonetheless recognise when a plan or approach isn’t working. After all, they’re adept at pinpointing faults in more established practices. And because they’re not frightened of uncertainty or failure, these leaders can quickly pivot to another course of action.
Psychometric profiling can help to unearth these traits in leaders, identifying those with the potential for coming up with – and pushing – revolutionary ideas.
Why is disruptive leadership important?
Without disruptive leadership, businesses wouldn’t just tick along, much as they have done for years. Markets are now highly competitive, with new rivals – both national and international – for customers emerging all the time. If businesses stand still and don’t change with the times, they’ll lose customers to companies that better serve their needs.
Disruptive leaders can help organisations to see where efficiencies can be made and where opportunities lie. They can be the difference between losing market share and gaining more customers.
Of course, when disruptive leaders come up with game-changing ideas for new products or services, there’s even more potential for growth. When the first generation iPhone hit the market in 2007, 1.9 million were sold and Apple ended the year with a 3.4% share of the mobile phone market. Ten years later, Apple sold almost 217 million iPhones, winning almost 20% of the market share in the final quarter of 2017.
Without Steve Jobs’ disruptive leadership, Apple would never have achieved the success it has known since the first iPhone was released.
It can be tempting for businesses to maintain tried and trusted ways of working, particularly if they continue to be profitable. Disruptive leaders, however, are not frightened of taking risks and ditching established practices, even if it causes short-term drops in profits.
Every company needs leaders who can make bold decisions – and have the strength of character to back their own judgement and drive change forward.
What are the pitfalls of disruptive leadership?
By its very nature, disruptive leadership will always lead to uncertainty and widespread change. Not only can this result in short-term losses by upsetting established practices and processes, but it can also demotivate people within the organisation. People often feel threatened in the face of change, particularly if they feel their contributions won’t be valued as highly under a new system or in a new business environment.
Of course, making extensive changes to any organisation always presents risks. Change must be carefully planned and managed, and even innovative thinking must have a solid rationale behind it.
Disruptive leaders can become impatient if they feel change is coming too slowly or obstacles are getting in the way. However, it’s important to make certain such leaders don’t overstep the mark in the single-minded, passionate pursuit of their goals: they can sometimes forget the importance of adhering to legal and ethical standards.
Who are some examples of disruptive leaders?
When we think about disruptive leadership, many of the most famous names come from the tech sector, where there has been so much innovation in the last few decades. This means markets can quickly turn on their heads if somebody identifies a way to radically improve the customer experience.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, Bill Gates and Paul Allen were transforming the world of computing and were swiftly followed by the likes of Steve Jobs. These early pioneers of the digital world paved the way for people like Google’s Larry Page, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Alibaba’s Jack Ma.
How do you become a disruptive leader?
Not just anyone can become a disruptive leader. Some people lack the vision or ideas required. Others might hesitate when it’s time for difficult decisions. While many people are simply unable to inspire their colleagues or whole teams.
However, if people possess some of the traits associated with disruptive leaders, the skills they’re missing can be nurtured, through targeted coaching.
For disruptive leaders to realise their potential and achieve their goals, it’s also vital that they receive encouragement and trust. Without that, they might never become the outstanding leaders they could otherwise have been.
How could disruptive leaders benefit from agp’s executive coaching?
Simply put, our executive coaching and leadership coaching can help disruptive leaders to achieve their potential – and inspire companies to achieve much more. Our coaches can help people to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they want to be.
We do this by refining their skills and helping them to foster new ones, ready for senior leadership roles. With personalised, one-on-one coaching, leaders can go from being individuals with a vision to leaders convincing entire teams to follow them and their ideas.
We tap into leaders’ personal strengths, giving them the tools and support to fulfil their potential, while addressing any gaps in their expertise. Executives who have benefitted from our coaching emerge as more rounded leaders, capable of making better, more informed decisions.
If you have someone in your business with a combination of disruptive leadership traits, you might be looking at an individual with extremely high potential. Giving them the right support and encouragement could yield incredible results for your company. They could transform your organisation, electrifying your employees and helping you to a whole new level of success.