When it comes to disruption, attention is often given to the technology platforms transforming industries. Yet disruption is a function of transformative leadership and a particular corporate culture.

Disruptive technology business

What distinguishes a maverick from a productive disruptor?

When it comes to the disruption of businesses and entire industries, focus is often placed on the technologies and platforms behind them that facilitated the innovation. Organisations that were unheard of just 7 years ago – think Uber, Spotify and AirBnB – are today’s household names.

Disruption doesn’t occur in isolation, however. Disruption is a function of transformative leaders and a culture that promotes, or at least doesn’t actively discourage going against the grain.

Organisations that embrace innovation and disruption exhibit very defined characteristics and cultures. Conversely, in conservative organisations, those who challenge the status quo and try to cut through bureaucracy may be characterised as mavericks. They are often admonished or sidelined in favour of the comfort of cultural conformity. It is those very same ‘mischief makers’ that hold the keys to transforming industries facing significant challenges due to changing market conditions.

3d printing disruptive innovation business

Mavericks vs. productive disruptors: what’s the difference?

Importantly, the difference between mavericks and productive disruptors is that the latter are leaders who transform companies not by simply generating bold strategies, but also by engaging people in the hard work of transformation. They don’t just aim to disrupt; they employ their interpersonal skills to disrupt productively.

A 2015 study, ‘Productive Disruptors: Five Characteristics that Differentiate Transformational Leaders’ by Russell Reynolds Associates revealed that, while these leaders are more disruptive and innovative than other executives, equally importantly, “they are more socially adept than other executives as well as bolder and more determined in translating ideas into action. They recognize that ideas without execution are hallucinations – and they understand that execution hinges on an ability to marshal the energies of the broader organization”.

In the study, Jason Seiken, former Chief Content Officer and Editor-in-Chief of the Telegraph Media Group, said: “Large companies need some bureaucracy to manage risk and reap the benefits of scale, but top digital transformation leaders are extremely adept at cutting through the clutter of unnecessary processes and turning decisions into action. “

Compared with other senior executives, productive disruptors:

  • Cut through bureaucracy
  • Bring an entrepreneurial spirit to their work
  • Exhibit inquisitiveness
  • Are comfortable managing ambiguity and uncertainty
  • Go against the grain
  • Are independently-minded
  • Challenge traditional approaches
  • Demonstrate willingness to take calculated risks
  • Are open to new things and think outside the box
  • Generate innovative solutions
  • Employ an abstract thinking style.

In changeable market conditions, the productive disruptor leader’s strengths across five specific areas (innovative, disruptive, social adeptness, bold leadership and determination) have never been more important.

AGL recognises that disruption in the Australian energy industry is inevitable and has taken proactive steps to be at the forefront of this change, recently announcing a $300 million capital expenditure program over three years to drive the digital transformation of AGL customers’ experience. “This is a key component of the delivery of our strategic framework to embrace transformation, drive productivity and unlock growth as the energy sector evolves”, said Andy Vesey, CEO.

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