Disruptive leadership – a new fad or a trend that’s here to stay?

By Jo Britton

Programme Lead for the IN4.0 Access Disruptive Innovation Accelerator delivered in partnership with UCLAN and Director of PACE Development.

Recently, I had the enjoyable task of chairing a round table discussion on Disruptive Leadership at UCLAN’s Leadership Hub’s Conference Beyond Leadership.

I was joined by leaders at all levels from both public and private sector organisations who have the challenges of leading in local councils, the NHS, schools, academia, charities, legal, professional services, start-ups, manufacturing and technology firms.

The one thing we all had in common was that in today’s world of continuous disruption, as leaders we know we can’t get too comfortable. As new technologies are advancing at lightning pace, the political, economic and social factors in our external environment place pressures on us to create change and lead it through.  Getting some new insights and perspectives into this emerging field of leadership was something we were all keen to seek.

So, what is disruptive leadership all about and why is it a big deal?  What do disruptive leaders look like? Is Disruptive Leadership just a new fad or a trend that’s here to stay?  And does every business need disruptive leaders?

Here’s what we discovered over our 45 minute discussion.

What is disruptive leadership and what do disruptive leaders look like?

At its most basic level, to disrupt is to change the way people think or change the way things are done. Businesses such as Netflix, SpaceX, Amazon and Apple have been disrupting entire business models, creating new markets and entire industries. At the helm of these organisations have been disruptors.  Leaders who haven’t been afraid to shake things up and who have challenged the status quo.  These leaders have been creating change, not just responding to it. Knocking out established players along the way.  Professionally inquisitive, critical but open to what others think, they have been challenging practices, norms and behaviours by looking at problems in new ways in order to find and create better solutions.  Often creative visionaries and usually brutally honest, they’ve pushed boundaries and haven’t accepted the normal benchmarks of success.

Is disruptive leadership a fad or a trend?  

The debate was wide ranging here. Disruptive leadership is perhaps nothing new. Its essence has roots stretching back a long way. Throughout history, we’ve always had trailblazers who have embodied a disruptive leadership approach.  Think of the pioneers pre and post the first industrial revolution.

Does every business need disruptive leaders? 

Today’s pace of technological change suggests so.  We need leadership capability in organisations which is able to both constructively disrupt and lead through disruption. Leaders with courage and confidence, a passion for innovation and who are willing to take risks.  Leaders at all levels of our organisations who can create a culture and environment where failure is embraced as learning and feedback because it’s viewed as an essential part of growth and success.  Crucially, we need leaders who embrace diversity and inclusion because they recognise and value the different perspectives that a diverse workplace brings. These skills and attitudes can be developed but we need to start early by encouraging this in schools.

Need help with upskilling leaders to scale up your business through disruptive leadership learning and disruptive innovation application?

Join the very best manufactures, technical disruptors, industry leaders and innovators on the IN4.0 Access Disruptive Innovation Accelerator delivered in partnership with UCLAN, NatWest, BAE Systems, The Landing at Media City and Sensor City.

About Jo Britton

Jo Britton is programme lead for IN4.O’s Disruptive Innovation Accelerator helping businesses to lead the adoption of new technologies to improve their productivity, profitability and growth. She’s also a leadership coach, personal brand and image consultant.