Disruption in business is the act of toppling a traditional idea or approach and changing the playing field in an unexpected way.

Many market leaders carve out a place for themselves at the top by taking a traditional business model in a new and exciting direction. In the process, they often leave a legacy product out in the cold.

Think about companies such as Netflix. It started out with Blockbuster as their competition. Or consider Snapfish, who disrupted a model that Kodak spent decades building.

Disruptive innovation is not a new concept. But what happens when we look for these qualities in the people we hire? In a bid to develop a stream of better leaders, should hiring managers be searching for self-disruptive leadership qualities?

The Signs of Self-Disruptive Leadership

Self-disruptors bring a host of benefits to the companies they work in. They think outside the box. They see the ‘big picture’ insights, and have resilience when faced with market challenges.

With fast-moving digital transformation, every business is only as strong as the latest start-up with a game-changing idea. So, the next big disruptor could be after your own market share. Hence, articles like Disrupt Yourself – or Someone Else Will state, “To achieve long-term success, business leaders must adopt a mantra: Disrupt yourself before someone else does.”

Of course, not everyone can think outside of the box. Companies certainly need team members who can sustain innovation – ensuring that the company is leading at what they do well. However, looking for leaders at the helm who have the ability to disrupt in both business growth and personal development is becoming increasingly important. Here are five things to look for in a self-disruptive leader.

They love constraints

While this might sound counter-intuitive, obstacles in the right hands are opportunities to be innovative. Disrupters are problem solvers, key thinkers who are two steps ahead and looking to break down barriers to success.

They are always asking ‘How’

When faced with failure, many leaders ask the wrong questions, turning inward to self-reflection instead of outward to change and growth. In Disrupt Yourself, by Whitney Johnson, she points to the behaviour that disruptors use during a debrief. “‘Why did this happen to me?’ [as opposed to] ‘How did this happen to help me?’is the difference between bracing yourself for a lesser version of you, and moving at breakneck speed up your personal learning curve.”

They are adaptable

When it comes to innovation and change, a personal ability to roll with the punches is a definite bonus. If leaping out of their comfort zone to find a better way of doing things is a strength, they are going to be invaluable in the workplace.

They are curious

The opposite of curiosity is complacency. If your employees are happy with the status quo, and uninterested in looking for new challenges or ideas, they are likely to be a deer caught in the headlights at the first signs of market disruption. This is even more important if you’re looking for a business leader who can enact disruption from the top.

They exude confidence

Personal or business disruption is not a comfortable place to sit in. Being able to stand up in front of a board of directors and suggest a disruptive change is scary, especially if the business appears to be ticking along nicely [be ware of the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality]. Confidence is also a key part of the Agile working mindset. This mindset allows leaders to ‘fail fast’ and get up again with the next big idea.

How Common is Self-Disruptive Leadership?

According to a recent study by Korn Ferry, these traits are rare, and only 15% of current leaders could be called self-disruptors.

95% of both global and UK CEOs say that they see disruption as an opportunity rather than a threat, according to a 2018 KPMG report. Korn Ferry propose the ADAPT approach for how the best business leaders disrupt their market:

  • Anticipating future changes to the market,
  • Driving the organisation from a point of confidence and control,
  • Accelerating innovation and change,
  • Partnering and inspiring across the silos and boundaries of traditional organisations,
  • Trust between individual employees and the business as a whole.

Self-disruptive leadership is a future-focused necessity for businesses who want to arm themselves against market changes. Finding leaders with these skills could be the difference between being market leaders and falling behind in the next wave of disruption. Are your leaders in the 15%?