Disruptive Thinking Is Not Enough: 7 Qualities For Creating Positive Change

Visionary Leadership,

Disruptive leaders challenge the status quo and bring about positive change in their organizations and industries. They are not afraid to question traditional ways of doing things and look for innovative solutions to problems.

Disruptive leadership is the visionary leadership style most associated with big changes, especially those that significantly affect the development of a particular industry.

But what makes a leader disruptive? Is it the industry-changing idea they have?

No. Any genius can have a great idea.

A disruptive leader is able to bring an unprecedented new idea to fruition because they possess certain characteristics in addition to disruptive thinking. Here are the seven traits we find most crucial for disruptive leaders to develop.

1: Risk-tolerant

Disruptive leaders are risk-tolerant.

They push limits and challenge traditional ways of doing things in order to achieve their goals.

Perhaps more than any other characteristic, risk-taking is what sets disruptive leaders apart. But while disruptive leadership can be highly effective in driving innovation, it can also be risky.

In her disruptive leadership TED talk, Col. Jill Morgenthaler shares that in order to disrupt abuses, racism, and sexism in the army, she had to break some rules and disobey some orders. This was extremely risky and could have put an end to her military career, but because she believed in righting the wrongs she encountered, she chose to follow the advice of George S. Patton Jr.: “Do your duty as you see it, and damn the consequences.”

Finding the balance between risk and reward is the supreme challenge for successful disruptive leaders. Breaking rules can turn out badly, but if you believe in your cause and the potential for positive change, it may be worth it to try.

Disclaimer: Fast Company Executive Board does not condone or advise any illegal or dangerous behavior. 

2: Adaptable

Disruptive leaders are adaptable.

They are mostly found (and mostly needed!) in rapidly changing industries that need out-of-the-box thinking to create new opportunities.

So they operate under the assumption that change is constant, and they accept changes as positive opportunities. They’re able and willing to pivot, adjusting plans and strategies to meet goals and challenges.

They are aware that change can be threatening for employees, and do their best to clearly communicate what is happening, why, and when, so that everyone is prepared to iterate and roll with the punches.

3: Confident

Disruptive leaders are confident.

To be a disruptive leader, flirting with constant change and rewriting the rules, confidence is key. It allows making decisions with determination and conviction.

A leader’s confidence reassures a team that they are in capable hands. It allows taking calculated risks and pursuing new opportunities, even in the face of uncertainty.

It’s also important for a disruptive leader to be confident because some decisions will be controversial, and some choices will go wrong, but accepting those consequences and moving forward anyway is the only way to create change.

Disruptive leaders with confidence accept failure when it comes, learn from what happened, adjust, pivot, and move on to the next chance to make an impact.

4: Inspiring

Disruptive leaders are inspiring.

They communicate plans in a passionate, charismatic manner that inspires others to join them in pursuing it. Communicating a vision is a crucial skill to develop, as an inspiring leader’s drive and determination can galvanize others to think outside the box, break down barriers to progress, and rally around a common cause. They act as a battery to charge and recharge their team’s enthusiasm and commitment, encouraging others to think creatively, bring new ideas to the table, give their best efforts, and make a difference.

Inspiring leaders empower all team members to be innovators, driving transformation in businesses, communities, and even the world.

5: Curious

Disruptive leaders are curious.

They are lifelong learners who embrace growth and development. They understand that in today's fast-paced world, knowledge and skills must be continually updated. They never stop learning, seeking new experiences and perspectives, and exploring new ideas.

The pursuit of knowledge keeps curious leaders ahead of the curve. By staying current on the latest trends and technologies, these leaders are able to bring new insights and solutions to their organizations, driving innovation and progress and providing a competitive advantage.

Often, disruptive leaders are not only lifelong learners, but also lifelong teachers, inspiring others to embrace continuous growth and development. They lead by example and foster a culture of growth and development, encouraging others to embrace lifelong learning as well.

6: Passionate

Disruptive leaders are passionate.

Drive, determination, and deep commitment to goals set them apart. Only someone with passion will be able to stomach the risk-taking and muster the confidence to choose the disruptive leadership style.

Passion creates resilience during difficult times, as leaders driven by purpose are less deterred by obstacles and setbacks.

With passionate leadership, CEOs and executives are able to create powerful momentum that transforms organizations, industries, and communities.

7: Future Focused

Disruptive leaders are future focused.

As Elevate Corporate Training says, “It’s not enough to embrace change in the workplace. Disruptive leadership means forcing change before it’s forced on you.”

Having future focus means looking ahead and anticipating the needs of an organization, industry, and audience. Considering not just the issues of today, but those of tomorrow, next year, and even the next generation.

Future focus provides a sense of direction and purpose for:

  • You: Effective leaders know where they’re going and have a clear plan (even if it’s a flexible plan that accounts for constant change).
  • Employees: By investing in training and growth, you equip your team with the skills they need to be successful in the future.
  • Customers: Operating ahead of the curve means your products and services will always be cutting edge and in demand.
  • Stakeholders: With skilled employees and pioneering offerings, your business’s bottom line will always be where you want it.

Disruptive leaders with a future focus are committed to leading the way toward a better world.


Disruptive leaders are the brave folks willing to take a stand to make a difference. In business, this means people who are developing the next big things despite challenges and setbacks. To be this kind of leader, it’s important to be risk-tolerant, adaptable, confident, inspiring, curious, passionate, and future focused.

For more on leadership for innovation, check out our recent post, “8 Qualities That Make a Visionary Leader,” or have a look at these innovative leadership examples. Then find out more about Fast Company Executive Board. We’re a hub for CEOs and execs in technology, marketing, creative design, social responsibility, and other industries operating on the cutting edge and rewriting the future of business. See if you qualify to join today!