8 Characteristics of Disruptive Leaders

“Disruptive leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have transformed companies, industries and entire societies while generating incredible wealth for themselves, their investors, their employees, as well as millions of other people,” says business disruption author John Furth.

Furth takes the lessons these and other great disruptors have learned and turns them into practical exercises, tools and techniques to help senior executives develop their own disruptive skill sets in his new book, “Owning Tomorrow: The Unstoppable Force of Disruptive Leadership

For over 25 years, John Furth worked with CEOs and their C-suite executives at some of the largest corporations of the world such as Sony, Deutsche Bank, Pfizer and Discovery Communications, helping them develop and implement disruptive and innovative businesses, leadership teams and organizations.

He has found that most successful disruptive business leaders have eight basic traits in common:

  1. They are “brainiacs.” While some well-known business disruptors never finished college, many received PhDs from the highest-ranked universities in the world. But they all have the same commitment to lifelong learning.
  2. They often push accepted behavioral, cultural, legal, and ethical boundaries to the limit. Unfortunately, if some of their more extreme tendencies aren’t reined in properly, they can quickly destroy everything they and their team worked hard to build.
  3. They’ve learned how to disrupt their own frames of reference and unproductive mindsets. This helps them increase their focus, ability to innovate, and to stay one step ahead of would-be competitors. Disruptive leaders expect and often demand their teams to think and act in the same way.
  4. They look for information, insights, and inspiration in unexpected places. They recognize that the usual or “traditional” sources of data are by nature backward-looking and hence of limited value in a world that is being re-created. Great disruptors ask excellent questions and listen carefully to the answers because they never know when someone else might have an insight that could be useful to them and the business.
  5. Their businesses – regardless of whether they are B2C or B2B – deliver on at least one of three fundamental value propositions:
    • Provide goods, services and experiences that were previously only available to the most privileged members of society to a much larger percentage of the population more easily and affordably.
    • Give customers what they want, when they want it and how they want it.
    • Eliminate or reduce the things in people’s everyday lives they don’t want, from everyday annoyances like wasted time, boredom, complexity or unhappiness as well as life-threatening situations like poverty and disease.
  6. They understand that disrupting an existing ecosystem or process on a regional or even global scale can cause significant short-term negative consequences. Entrenched and inflexible companies are driven out of business, and many individual careers are adversely affected. However, the value created for billions of people far outweighs such negative incidents.
  7. At some point they learn the ultimate paradox of disruption: “more stays the same than changes.” Like all successful companies, disruptive enterprises have to have the funding necessary to execute their plans, the right people doing the right jobs and the wherewithal and commitment to push through many breakdowns and hurdles.
  8. They generate unimaginable wealth for themselves, their investors, their employees, and others connected to their companies.

Real Leaders is the Preferred Partner Publication of YPO and inspires better leaders for a better world. It’s the world’s first sustainable business and leadership magazine. The company was established as a B-Corporation and subscribes to a vision of social and environmental responsibility while also promoting gender balance in the workplace. Real Leaders is a global event sponsor, online content provider and publisher that delivers education and idea exchange to YPO and beyond. Real Leaders has interviewed business leaders across the globe who are making a positive difference in the world, including: Richard Branson, Forest Whitaker, Sharon Stone, Sara Blakely, FW de Klerk, Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Yunus, Sheryl Sandberg, Laura Turner Seydel, Shirin Ebadi and Shari Arison. The company has a presence at events of global significance, such as The World Economic Forum in Davos, the Clinton Global Initiative and the World Summit Of Nobel Peace Laureates, for which it produces a special peace edition of Real Leaders magazine.