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The Disruptive Leader

From an early age, we are taught to be restrained, to color within the lines, and to follow the rules; in short, we are told not to be disruptive. Yet many of the greatest achievements in history could not have occurred without a disruptive force behind them. The authors of the U.S. Declaration of Independence disrupted one of the most powerful monarchies at that time to realize their vision for a better world; just as Steve Jobs did to the telecom, music, and software industries.

Would anyone remember Henry Ford’s name if he followed the manufacturing process of his predecessors? If Southwest Airlines didn’t believe that you can provide world-leading customer service at a discounted price and sustain a profitable business over time? If internet entrepreneurs who blazoned the path for others followed the advice of pundits in the early 90’s who said the world wide web would be a passing fancy? Impactful change takes a disruptive mindset and the determination to see things through, despite what critics may say about you.

But disruption in the business world is often a word that can strike fear into the heart of most executives. Most organizations recognize that the world is changing at a rapid pace and that disruption is all around us. But, how do most managers deal with this reality? They fall back on the practices, the organizational structures, and the products and services that have historically made their businesses successful. You’ve heard the timeless adage before and you’ll hear it again, “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

But you don’t need to break something, let alone smash it to bits, to be disruptive. Being disruptive is an internally-driven mindset that seeks continual improvement, looks for better ways, and recognizes that the world (and the marketplace) is evolving quickly and that’s it’s far better to lead in that evolution than to follow. A disruptive mindset forces an organization to consider better ways of operating, to shake the rust from some tried and true practices, and to evolve as the marketplace changes over time.

To be disruptive to the marketplace is a more enviable position than to be disrupted upon. External forces are at play when the disruption is being caused to you instead of you causing it. And we’ve all seen what impact disruption has had to industry-leading organizations that fail to consider how to change their businesses, let alone their industries. In 2000, Reed Hastings approached Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and offered to sell the business he founded — Netflix. Antioco and others in the Blockbuster organization failed to understand the disruptive nature of technology to the space they played in and sent their organization into bankruptcy.

While technology has been a major disruptor throughout history, disruption is not about technology. It’s about creativity, the act of solving problems, of improving on existing products and services, and discovering new solutions to problems that previously didn’t exist. Disruptive people are creative people because they solve problems and the most successful and disruptive leaders in the 21st Century will be those that can unleash the creative capacity of their people. Be a disruptor. Be a leader. Unlock the creative genius in your people and you’ll be truly amazed at the disruption you can cause.

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