As the summer marches forward, I continue to think about the best leaders I have had the ability to serve and support as they hire executives into their organizations. The most memorable for me are those who seek a future that is bold, compelling, and captures the very essence of winning; they are disruptors! These leaders take time to build trust and bring people along — speaking authentically and operating with consistency and integrity. They encourage inventive and unorthodox action. They build culture and then they build it more.

I have informally studied organizational disruption in my work as an executive search consultant and I have observed a few traits common to this group of memorable leaders:

  • Disruptive leaders like to learn. They are intellectually curious and proactively investigate new things, identify and solve never-seen-before problems, and apply new ways of doing the work at hand. They are willing to be proactive and responsibly experimental, discovering improvements others may not see.
  • They’ve learned how to change their own frames of reference and interrupt unproductive mindsets. This helps them increase their focus, ability to innovate, and to stay one step ahead of would-be competitors. Disruptive leaders expect and often demand their teams to think and act in the same way.
  • They look for information, insights, and inspiration in unexpected places. They recognize that the usual or “traditional” sources of data are, by nature, backward-looking and hence of limited value in a world that is being newly envisioned and recreated. Great disruptors ask excellent questions and listen carefully to the answers because they never know when someone else might have an insight that could be useful to them and the enterprise.
  • For those in the private sector, competition is tough, and conditions can be unpredictable and unforgiving. Disruptive leaders must be fierce, focused, and goal driven. They must ensure their organizations have a deep knowledge of their competition and a thorough understanding of what it will take to take the top position. For nonprofit leaders, I would argue that there is nothing wrong with aspiring to be “best in class” amongst your peer group.
  • I’ve heard it said that a diamond can’t be polished without friction. That same principle applies to organizational excellence today. Disruptive leaders can’t maximize their potential without being tested by adversity. Disruptive leaders are unafraid of calculated risks, using obstacles and setbacks as opportunities to refine their strategies and skills.

I would encourage each of you to explore that side of your best self that is primed to be a disruptive leader! I look forward to hearing about your ambitious work in the days ahead.