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Currently, many companies are going through a dramatic journey, as the market and its opportunities quickly change in character. It is all about being ready to meet disruption, especially before the competitors. As a leader, you should be able to foresee these drastic changes. But what does disruption exactly require from you as a leader?

Disruption has, without a doubt, been one of the hottest topics in most industries the past couple of years. Today, disruption stands highest on the to-do list in many companies’ strategic planning. In spite of this, many leaders do not fully grasp the concept of disruption. Because it smells of IT, it is easy to hand over to the IT department, which is a big mistake. Disruption has nothing to do with IT. Disruption is basically a sudden shift in wind direction – a fundamental change in how we think and how we act, which can disturb or change existing markets by having new players offer a better alternative to existing products or services. This screams leadership with a capital “L”.

But how does disruption unfold itself when it comes to leadership? Disruptive leadership can be briefly described as a management style which constantly seeks better solutions and new ways to improve business and processes, and which is not afraid of shaking the established systems to reach necessary goals. Steve Jobs is a well-known disruptor, and his leadership style and creative vision can, in many ways, explain Apple’s overall success. Jobs was known for being brutally honest in his criticism – a leadership style he could defend through his results.

However, you don’t need to be a Steve Jobs in order to become a disruptive leader. You can also risk going too far in your disruptive leadership, when basic processes are torn apart making it unmanageable to address all changes at once.

Disruption basically consists of preparing your company to meet new challenges and win the competitive war. And there is nothing new about this. It actually roots back from the ancient Japan, when the Zen masters would use disruptive leadership or the “surprise element” to keep their students steady on their toes. Today, we typically see disruptive leadership in start-ups, which are focused on challenging the status quo and doing things differently, all in a better and cheaper way.

To succeed with disruption, you need to gather all the workforce you possibly can in your company. You must be prepared to fail and learn from your mistakes. You also need to start looking at the world differently, which is the trickiest part.

A company’s culture is crucial when dealing with disruption. And it is not easy to change company culture. When incorporating digitalization and disruption, you rarely have time for the big and time-consuming processes. You often need to change a company’s direction very quickly while under pressure. My practical and personal suggestion is to start with some training in change management. Start by changing small aspects of your company, such as physical boundaries and forms of working and meeting. Lead the way by teaching your employees to respond to change and challenge them to think and work in new ways. Be conscious of the pace. It should not go too fast, otherwise your employees will not be able to cope with them. It cannot go too slow either, otherwise the development will stand still.

You should also define new heroes and stories across the company and review the structure of your workforce and management team to increase your chances of making disruption an advantage.

The road to success is a fine line. If you go too far in challenging and being critical, you will get the role of the stand-alone leader. If you are too disinclined, your team will also be. Just like other aspects of being a leader, the journey to reaching your goals can be difficult, but the reward for success is fantastic.


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