How to become a “disruptive leader”

Why is it so important to discuss leadership at the present moment? Why is everyone talking about it?

In the last week alone, at least five articles have appeared in my Linkedin feed addressing the crucial topic of leadership. This blossoming discussion is not only a sign of a trendy topic but, as I see it, the response to a sense of urgency, a need that has emerged, the need for guidance in this phase of dynamic transformation.

So I will not be discussing the qualities of a good leader, such as the capacity for listening, empathy, awareness of talent or business sense because I believe these are the consolidated grounds on which to build a new approach to leadership in the digital age. And this is what I am going to talk about.

The disruptive imperative: the figure of the exponential manager

We have already read / written / recounted / heard it: we are living through a phase of exponential transformation defined as “DISRUPTIVE”. Today, we start to see the first signs of a new wave of revolutionary technologies and it is just the start of an unprecedented age of innovation. These technologies change the way in which companies are organized and work. But the first players to be affected by them are the executives, leaders, managers, C-levels, who are forced to become exponential.

What does this mean? To “disrupt” means “to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way; to interrupt the normal progress or activity of something.”   As well explained by Faisal HoqueFaisal Hoque, a serial digital businessman I have had the pleasure to meet, the first quality of the disruptive leader is to ensure that something stops working in the usual way; to be a “disruptive leader”,in other words to interrupt the normal progression or activity of something… to make new ideas emerge (I add – Author’s note)..

Leaders have to be ready and willing to enter the fray wholeheartedly. It is necessary to bring change to the company’s modus operandi because it is becoming more and more evident that we are moving away from a predictable world, in which the principal strategy consists in increasing efficiency, towards a world of uncertainty and experimentation, in which flexibility and disruption are the most important competitive advantages (to quote Salim Ismail in “Exponential Organizations”).

This brings us to another characteristic of future management: a passion for uncertainty and the ability to govern it. In this respect the old concept of leadership continues to be a strong and valid one, that of being “at the helm”. In an extremely competitive environment in constant evolution and radical transformation, being able to steer the ship by indicating the right course to follow is still an essential skill enabling the business and individuals to continue growing.

Intuition, the capacity for vision and personal instinct continue to be central. Since the future is unknown ground to a great extent, most strategic decisions depend heavily on intuition. In a world of uncertainty, the leader uses instinct in the same way as a compass, better still if this is a human-tech compass, that is to say, augmented by the potential of technologies.

Data-driven experimentation: the realistic guidance through chaos

Exponential organizations and, more in general, those companies that want to grow by riding the wave of transformation in the digital age, are introducing a new professional profile, that of the CDO – Chief Data Officer. A leader who is focused on data management and the identification of information which can be rapidly and safely processed internally, in a form that is immediately usable by different company stakeholders.

Attention to data and confidence in information (generated or collected by the countless process management technologies of our companies) are essential prerogatives for any exponential leader, starting from the CEO, in order to implement disruptive decision-making processes.

This is why I refer to a human-tech compass: apart from his/her instinct, the “ExO leader” possesses and develops a particular sensitivity to information and to possible consequences (even the most unimaginable ones). Let me explain that more clearly: we are talking about the Orthogonal Information Effect (Oie), that is to say, the unexpected value that may lie concealed behind apparently marginal data.

Wherever we look, we can see industries which have been completely restructured as a result of changes often deriving from an ever greater quantity of new data being collected and interpreted. If we just think of the widespread diffusion of IoT sensors or wearable devices, we can train our minds to imagine alternative applications for Big-Data, to the point of elaborating a new business idea destined to become an excellent opportunity for someone but a potential threat to the consolidated industry affected by it. An Exo leader keeps an open eye on start-ups: a winning strategy in this respect could be that of monitoring the establishment of innovative new companies and bringing them on board, by means of an acquisition or shareholding.

Each significant variation today can bring about great change tomorrow. The ability to recognize these signs and interpret them as effectively as possible for their own business models is a great quality “disruptive leaders” are required to have.

If being able to spot the more or less perceivable signs of any type and at any level of the organization becomes a vital condition for the actual survival of the company, it is apparent to all that this ability of the disruptive leader cannot be concentrated around the CEO, or any other executive figure. Yet again, teamwork is the winning solution. The model to pursue is that of distributed responsibility, in a word Holacracy: putting trust in people and making room for self-organization and collaboration with strong decision-making powers, giving priority to speed and the capacity to adapt at all levels.

Create a sense of purpose: build a team of “leaders’ leaders” oriented to success

A commitment-oriented company proves to be successful because it gathers its people around one great objective (or Mtp – Massive Transformative Purpose, with yet another reference to Exponential Organizations).

If all of your people are involved in your dream, you will have no difficulty building up an organization of committed leaders who, in their turn, will enable their resources to grow by empowering them to work towards an objective and so on, through…


It is now that the human qualities of a good leader prove to be fundamental (and besides they always have been, as well expressed in many articles prior to mine). The relational aspect and communicative capacity of the leader are the lifeblood of a winning team, especially in the digital era, based on speed, notifications, chatbots and instant messaging.

What should a good leader in the digital age be focused on? My attention is drawn more and more often to certain aspects, human and behavioural characteristics I believe to be the real skills of a leader.

Motivate. A leader must make recourse to his investigative capacity to discover what really drives people to act. What motivates my people? What internal and external forces can lead them to achieve the objective?

Show empathy. Knowing how to recognize and anticipate our people’s needs enables us to get the best out of them; this requires a strong propensity for listening and observing.

Use your emotional intelligence. To mindfully recognise, use, understand and manage your own and other people’s emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth; tap sentiments or trigger them to generate thought… and therefore ideas.

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