Why Bezos, Jobs, Musk or Zuckerberg aren’t Disruptive Leaders

by Didier Marlier on Thursday June 9th, 2022

Let’s put the record straight before going any further: This article doesn’t aim at criticising any of the above mentioned leaders (leaving aside it would be a total lack of class to talk about one of them, no longer with us).

I simply aim at further refining what Disruptive Leaders do and don’t do.

Recently reading an article in a Belgian business magazine about two of Musk’s recent provocative claims (Get back to work or else! And the one, blessing the fact that the crisis created by the Ukrainian situation, would break some businesses he deemed as unsustainable), I thought “This man just speaks and thinks like my grandfather did” …

The above mentioned leaders’ belong to the old economy, striving on state support for Tesla, making its money through carbon credits more than selling what it produces, Musk loving to take provocative and polarising positions. What makes/made Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg and the likes, “business geniuses of the XXth Century” is their amazing capacity to foresee and understand how to use the advances in technology. But their mindset remains “Old Economy”, exclusion, opposition, egocentrism, cynicism… XIXth century capitalism.

I am often asked: “Do you have example of Disruptive Leaders”? The difficulty is that they are just emerging, by bits and pieces… They are progressing by trial and error although they have extremely strong values and equally resilient determination. I find the jigsaw pieces of such leaders in improbable businesses, in unexpected parts of the World. What reassembles them, whether they work in Chemicals, Private Equity, Food distribution, High Tech Simulations or… aviation (yes…), are common themes that raise with them:

  • The awareness that no national barriers will protect us: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” said Martin Luther King. Disruptive leaders are deeply concerned about the huge steps backwards caused by the Covid disruption of global supply chains and the war in Ukraine’s presiding to the raise of a possible huge hunger wave for millions, a new Iron Curtain, tensions with China, creating a new cold war whose transformation into war would leave no one immune… Disruptive leaders integrate the fact that we are all on the same boat and that food crisis, wars, environmental destructions will affect us all. Disruptive leaders think globally and avoid the nationalist pitfall!
  • The rejection of polarising, provocative and adversarial relationships: “There is no monopoly on common sense, on either side of the political fence: We share the same biology, regardless of ideology” used to sing Sting in his (sadly) visionary song, “Russians”. The World has taken unthinkable and huge steps back, under the command of excluding (homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, racist) leaders. Some counter-fires were lit-up (Black Lives Matter, MeToo) but we are collectively failing to recreate bridges amongst ourselves, preferring the illusion of bonding to the more demanding and intelligent way of bridging. Disruptive leaders are bridge builders. They seek to understand instead of convincing.
  • Critical thinking as a vital antidote to social networks’ “mediocratisation of society”: “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge” said Isaac Asimov, a Russian-born, American author, professor of biochemistry and highly successful science writer. I can’t even think what he would say nowadays when so many people “believe it because it was written on twitter”… Critical Thinking (which one of us, Nick McRoberts, skilfully teaches on our programs) has become a much needed skill for Disruptive leaders, in the age of social networks. But, should Critical Thinking “be used as a weapon instead of a tool”, it loses it bridging potential. “Contradiction should awaken Attention, not Passion” used to say an English 17th Century cleric, Thomas Fuller. Disruptive leaders use Critical Thinking to create objective and universal knowledge.
  • From leading my team to engaging multiple communities: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea” wrote Saint-Exupery in his most humanistic novel, “Terre des Hommes”. I like this quote which illustrates the difference between Logos/leading (drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders), which can be applicable to a team, in the context of a pyramidal, vertical, siloed and hierarchical organisation) and Pathos/engaging (teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea), definitely best suited for an organic, connected, joined on a voluntary basis community. Disruptive leaders master the use of Logos (intellect), Ethos (Values and Behaviours) and Pathos (Passion and Emotion) to engage communities and not just teams.
  • From leading when I know to leading, even when I don’t know: “We are not prepared for what is coming towards us, but we will go through it together!” were the words of a very rare apparition of the whole Swiss government, the evening they announced the gravity of the Covid situation. And… their credibility rocketed sky-high in the population… What a different stand from leaders “pretending to know” and imperiously dictating that Covid was no worse than a simple flu. The Disruption Economy and its V.U.C.A. corollary have made our work far less predictable than in the recent past. Disruptive leaders “move from an assumption that they need to guess the Future, to being ready for whatever it brings” as Belgian strategist, Nick van Heck explains. The complex World we see evolve in front of our eyes, makes it increasingly difficult to pretend that “we know!” Disruptive Leaders are acutely aware of their people’s expectations that, precisely because times have become more uncertain, they must nevertheless… lead! 

The Disruption Economy is not simply a matter of technological breakthrough. As we have seen, a quantity of a virus, smaller than a tea spoon, has spread havoc and crippled economies around the World. The war in Ukraine is threatening our wobbly recovering economies. Environment is an even bigger threat. Economic inequalities between continents or inside a same nation have huge impacts on migrations, religious tensions, cost of production, consumption habits etc. We have entered the most challenging era of our survival as a species. Will we go through it with the same style of leadership that got us to where we are today? Disruptive leadership is the strongest and deepest change that mankind has seen in its History.

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2 Responses to “Why Bezos, Jobs, Musk or Zuckerberg aren’t Disruptive Leaders”

  1. Another great article my friend! Loved some incisive thoughts: my ignorance = your knowledge; teams to communities.

    Reply
    • Thank you, dear Jay,
      Your supportive feedback is a blessing!
      Looking fwd to reconnect!
      Didier

      Reply

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