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The 7 Characteristics of Disruptive Leaders

The 7 Characteristics of Disruptive Leaders - Elevate Corporate Training
Home » Executive Coaching » The 7 Characteristics of Disruptive Leaders

A disruptive student is someone who causes a distraction in the classroom. A disruptive employee is someone who frequently causes frustrations and problems for others in the workplace. Unlike these examples, however, a Disruptive Leader is someone who embraces change and drives innovation.

Just about everything in our world is changing. Who envisioned years ago we would all have computers in our pockets with more computing power than NASA used on the moon landing? Disruption is no longer a bad thing in the workforce. Disruptive leadership is essential in order to transform legacy organisations.

What Is Disruptive Leadership?

Changing the way people think and the way things get done is no easy task. Keeping an organisation on track while making the necessary changes takes a delicate balance. Disruptive ideas can change existing businesses and markets. Disruptive thinking can produce better products and more efficient systems. It can be the recipe for success. It can also destroy industries and companies.

Disruptive leaders are always looking for better solutions and ways to improve products, systems, and businesses. They aren’t afraid to challenge conventional wisdom.

Why Is Disruptive Leadership Important?

Elevate founder Cameron Elliot talks about the importance of Disruptive Leadership

Consider this? A PwC study of CEOs revealed some powerful insights:

  • 86% say customers are demanding more from products than ever before. 
  • 50% say they expect consumers to replace their product with an alternative solution in the next five years.
  • 80% say the production technologies their companies use will have to change

Nearly 40% of companies that made the Fortune 500 list in 2010 have gone out of business.  Only 3 are still among the top 10.

It’s not enough to embrace change in the workplace. Disruptive leadership means forcing change before it’s forced on you.

Staying the course can still yield respectable profits, which can cause paralysis. It’s easier to stick with the old model for a few more years than change. Disruption sometimes leads to fewer profits and lower margins in the early stages. That’s why so many retail stores still operate roughly the same way they’ve done for years even in today’s online shopping world. 

Disruptive leaders have the personal strength of character to stay the course because disruption can take time. When Netflix launched in the late 90s, it didn’t compete directly with Blockbuster. Blockbuster served customers with immediate access to movies while Netflix had to mail them. As such, Blockbuster did not see Netflix as the threat it would become. As streaming video became more technically appealing, Netflix was poised to strike. For Blockbuster, it was too late.

The 7 Traits Of Disruptive Leaders

For disruptive leaders, it isn’t about change for the sake of change. It’s about increasing value through change. Disruptive leaders typically share these seven traits:

  1. They are fearless in pursuing the truth. They are constantly testing products, services, and strategies against where the market is heading, and they aren’t afraid to tell people when things aren’t working.
  2. They are decisive and inspire confidence. Teams want leaders who see the future and lead them where they need to go. Disruptive leaders are able to articulate their vision of the future and break down the steps needed to meet that vision.
  3. They are adaptable. When disruptive ideas don’t work, they move on. Even the best disruptive thinking may fall short when markets shift or new information comes to light. They don’t see failure as an end result, but an opportunity to learn what does not work in order to find what does work.
  4. They are often life-long learners. They have a nearly insatiable interest in a multitude of topics and often find insight and inspiration in unexpected places. They constantly ask why and why not. They seek counsel from colleagues and accept coaching and training.
  5. They understand that disruption can cause uncertainty for team members. Amid the chaos, they keep everybody focused on the job at hand. In times of change, they are comfortable with uncertainty. 
  6. They are customer-obsessed and product-obsessed. They focus on making better products that will solve customer problems and find efficiencies to reduce costs. They are rarely satisfied and constantly looking for the next revision.
  7. They are rule breakers by nature. Disruptive leaders have a healthy scepticism of past practices. They approach tasks looking for ways to improve.

Why Disruptive Leaders Need Executive Coaching

If you are in a leadership position and you aren’t actively looking for disruptions, you can easily be left behind. The landscape is littered with businesses that failed to act when markets shifted. Just ask the folks at Blockbuster, Kodak, Blackberry, Polaroid, or Pan Am.

Executive training and leadership coaching play an important role for disrupters and executives who are struggling with disruption. Leadership coaching allows for the development of key skills that are needed in today’s fast-paced and evolving business environment. Executive training provides the toolset to effectuate change and motivate others to evolve.

Successful management teams must be able to master the soft skills to manage others through periods of intense change. They demonstrate strong communication skills to rally people to their vision and create a safe culture for employees to change. Executive coaching can help leaders navigate the complexities of business in ambiguous situations. They can help shape disruptive thinking with tangible ways to assimilate information in an unbiased way.


Interested? Get in touch with one of our trainers today to see how we can help you.