Disruptive Leadership

Anyone with a title can be in charge.  Anyone with an idea can lead.  But it takes courage to lead disruptively.  Enter Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

As the Pusher-in-Chief for our caffeine delivery system of choice, Howard has a place in the heart of many.  But he earned straight up admiration for his message to fellow CEOs on August 15th.  In it, he encouraged his peers to “forego political contributions until the Congress and the President return to Washington and deliver a fiscally disciplined long-term debt and deficit plan to the American people.”  (Hat tip to Bloomberg News for the info.)

This is more than a public declaration of feelings.  This is a powerful person reaching out to other powerful people to use their influence in a positive, disruptive way.  By asking for their help and support in this, he has put his own influence to work for the greater good.  At least as he sees it.

This is the essence of great leadership.  It’s easy to repeat a widely held belief, or to make broad sweeping comments that do not put your personal standing at risk.  But to really lead means to take steps to change the world, and that means driving change.

While being disruptive tends to carry a negative connotation, it need not be that way.  The telephone was disruptive.  The automobile was disruptive.  The Internet is disruptive.  These are game changing events, and they turned the world on it’s ear.  But I don’t think anyone would argue that they didn’t bring a lot of benefits with them.

You can be disruptive.  You can challenge the status quo.  You can ask tough questions, demand uncomfortable answers, and drive transparency and accountability in everything you do.  It will cause problems.  It will make people uneasy.  And it will raise resistance from those around you.

But that’s what great leadership does.

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