To Succeed, Leaders Must Disrupt Their Own Leadership Style

You’ve probably heard of the term “VUCA” (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity), shorthand for describing the difficult and uncertain environment — and disRUPTions — that many organizations face.

Business models that carried companies to the top of their industries are burning, set aflame by technology, demographic changes, globalization, and other disruptive forces. Consider, for example, how technology has transformed the music business from CDs to downloads to on-demand streaming in just 2 decades.

“Everyone’s aware of the stories,” says Joseph Press, CCL’s global innovator.

Nokia, for example, didn’t do anything wrong in its cell phone business. The company simply lost market share when Apple hit the market with game-changing design.

Our white paper, Leadership, Disrupted: How to Prepare Yourself to Lead in a Disruptive World, discusses the challenges that leaders face and how to best respond, noting that to lead their organizations through disruption, leaders themselves must change. “You need to disrupt your leadership,” Press says.

How to Disrupt Your Own Leadership

For organizations to survive and thrive, their leaders must be adept at adopting new roles, crafting new identities, and finding new meaning for themselves and those they lead.


Shift #1: Rethink Your Role

The first big shift is for leaders to disrupt their roles. Organizations of the future may look very different than most organizations do today.

For example, the Chinese consumer electronics and home appliance company Haier transformed its 80,000-strong workforce so it could better monitor changing consumer trends and respond faster. The company organized itself into 2,000 independent units, each with its own P&L. Employees are paid based on performance.

Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin’s own role must also change. Instead of sitting atop a giant organizational hierarchy, he must now manage many interdependent business units as they respond to market forces.

Perhaps instead of “chief executive officer,” his title should be chief ecosystem officer. Other senior executives likewise might take on new roles and new responsibilities to keep the organization stable, while at the same time making it more agile.

Emerging Leadership Trends Report

Shift #2: Adopt New Identities

The second big shift for leaders is to disrupt their identities. While traditional identities — such as “the visionary” and “the performance-driven” — will remain relevant, leaders should consider and selectively adopt new identities.

  • Be a consumer: Consumer experience can help you develop new and better ideas. In 2017, Nestlé’s Pete Blackshaw, global head of innovation and digital service models, produced videos using consumer tools like iMovie and Snap glasses, giving him firsthand insights into how consumers use and experience digital tools.
  • Be a catalyst: Nonstop iterations within the innovation process can drive organizational transformation in strategy, organization, and market presence.
  • Be a mad scientist: Experimenting in creative ways and taking calculated risks can help you explore possibilities that will help you understand the tumultuous environment your organization is operating within and how to succeed in that environment.

To read about additional identities that leaders can adopt to provide new ideas and perspectives, reference our white paper.

Shift #3: Create New Meanings

The third shift comes when leaders start creating new meaning. Purpose is a key component of many companies’ strategies now — consider Facebook’s mission “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” for example.

Developing a shared sense of meaning within and outside of a company is a powerful tool for shaping culture, driving innovation, and creating a sustainable organization. This job of “creating meaning” for an organization is one of the most important functions a leader has.

Leaders can consider their organization’s meaning through 3 dimensions:

  • Personal: Individuals can receive functional and emotional benefits from products and services that are infused with meaning.
  • Organizational: A strong sense of purpose creates tangible and intangible value for the organization and its stakeholders.
  • Societal: Your organization’s meaning and purpose can influence — directly and indirectly — society as a whole.

Leaders who create a unifying vision across all 3 dimensions of meaning can drive extraordinary success for their companies.

How to Lead through Disruption

Auto parts maker Delphi is a good example. The company was spun off from General Motors in 1999, but changes to the auto industry and high legacy costs pushed the firm into bankruptcy by 2005. To find its way out, it was critical the company find new meaning and purpose.

A new culture was forged based on excellence and a passion for customers. As the auto industry embraced new technologies, such as electrical and self-driving vehicles, Delphi carried out a strategy to develop new technologies to make the world safer, greener, and more connected.

When the company went public in 2011, it was worth less than $3 billion. In 2017, it split into 2 companies: Delphi Technologies, which was worth about $4.5 billion in early 2018, and Aptiv PLC, worth more than $24 billion.

“If you are in business, you will face disruption and change,” said Majdi B. Abulaban, president of Delphi E/EA, Delphi Engineered Components Group & Delphi Asia Pacific.

“Find meaning in what is happening around you. Only then can you explain it and have people embrace it with a common purpose. Only then can you reinvent yourself.”

Find Your Future Fluency

Learn more about how you can lead effectively when facing disruption by reading our complete white paper, Leadership, Disrupted: How to Prepare Yourself to Lead in a Disruptive World.

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