‘Disruption’ has emerged as a commonly used word today, across business conversations. It finds its place when defining global trends. Disruption gained more prominence with the rise of startups and entrepreneurship. A large number of new age companies are seen as an example of disruption as they are committed to bring about a transformational change in the way things are done. Take the example of a fintech brand that changed the way financial transactions are done, or a company in the healthtech or edutech space that transformed healthcare or education respectively, by leveraging technology and the internet.
Over the last couple of years, disruption is also seen as a required skill-set for some roles in the organisation.
What is disruption?
Disruption is synonymous to breaking through the clutter and doing the unconventional. It is related to a major change or transformation. If we look up for the actual meaning of the word, it can be noted that disruption is about changing the way people think, or the way in which things are done.
Today, disruption is taking place at breakneck speed and an unprecedented scale- something, that is unheard of in modern history. The era of stable and conventional has given way to disruptive and path-breaking. Disruption has made its way not only in consumer behavior, but also across industry verticals including banking, retail, media, manufacturing, education etc. The rise of technology-aided products, increase in the usage of smartphone and the internet adoption, change in consumer behavior and increased usage of social media are some of the key drivers of disruption.
Disruption and leadership
With the rise in disruption, there has been an urgent need for a new form of leadership – one that can help the organisation sail through turbulent times. Companies have realised that right leadership is critical for their survival as well as success, in these hyper-competitive and unpredictable times. Leaders are at the forefront of optimisation and transformation and hence, are required to embrace opportunities, address challenges and minimise risks around disruption.
However, the biggest challenge is that there is no playbook for this kind of leadership – as it is clearly impossible to define disruptive trends well in advance. Even the highly experienced and successful leaders struggle to cope with the fluid market environment, evolving business models, advancements in technology, digital transformation and rapid changes in consumer preferences.
What it takes to be a disruptive leader?
While there is no checklist to this, there are some key traits that work well for a disruptive leader. Here are a few of them that seem to stand the test of time.
The alpha male leader is passé. Disruptive leadership is about being humble and open to criticism and feedback, internally as well as externally. In today’s era, one needs to keep track of conversations by employees as well as external stakeholders, that may be taking place on social platforms, take cues from them and take necessary remedial action, as needed. A leader who is humble is open to new ideas and innovations. He is also okay with not having all the answers and hence, learning something new. This is a much-needed skill for a disruptive leader.
Fluid market environment requires professionals who are willing to adapt in line with the market requirements. This skill has become quintessential for leaders in a complexing and evolving business environment. This is because minus adaptability it is not possible to devise high-impact strategies to respond to disruption. An adaptable leader is willing to learn, unlearn and relearn, as the situation may demand. An adaptable leader is willing to correct wrong or non-impactful decisions, and in turn apprise their team about the same. Lifelong learning is a clear trait amongst disruptive leaders, and they do not shy away from learning even from those much younger than them.
In an evolving business environment, there is no place for working in silos or lack of trust. Team is the biggest asset of a disruptive leader, who is able to take people along, as he chases difficult situations. Disruptive leaders are transparent with their team members. They trust their team members to deliver their best and are not stuck on micro-management. They believe in focusing on bigger agendas and allow for better ownership and decision-making.
Thrive on uncertainty
Disruptive leaders are the ones who are not afraid of uncertainty. They thrive in chaos and hustle. The usual is not something that brings out the best in them. Instead, they are the ones who can keep a cool head and deliver great results at times of uncertainty. The unfazed approach helps them think better, not get bogged down by pressure and hence, salvage the situation in the best possible manner.
Disruptive leaders have a great vision and are able to articulate it well in critical times. In today’s unpredictable times, the traditional analytics is not able to predict well or provide long-term definitive strategies.
Disruptive leaders are great team players and hence, able to communicate well to their team. They have an innate quality of connecting well and aligning the team to the larger vision of the organisation. They are able to engage well with customers, partners, suppliers, employees and the broader ecosystem. They are great listeners with a desire to learn, discover and be a better version of themselves.
Disruptive leaders build great teams- which are closely-knit and are able to deliver in crises. They are ideal for guiding and grooming a team and have a calming effect on the team members. Additionally, they strongly believe in ‘failing fast and learning quickly’. One of the best example of disruptive leadership was Steve Jobs- a leader who changed quite a few rules and was popular for his simple and grounded demeanor as well as his approach to criticism.
The future belongs to disruptive leadership- one that thrives on humility and collaboration. The leaders who are adaptable to change stand a better chance to be successful. Agility is the mantra for success.
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