Who will lead your company into the future?

There is a new trend in companies to search for disruptive leaders like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elan Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg, to lead their way into the emerging future. Will hiring a disruptive leader help take your company into the future?

My proposition is- while there definitely is a place for disruptive leaders in the world, looking for a Steve Jobs, or an Elan Musk to lead a company into the future is a simplistic and naive way of thinking about a legacy company’s transformation. On the contrary, a company with an established legacy, culture and brand equity is better off thinking of itself as a part of an evolutionary process in which leapfrogging into the emerging future is a more prudent and profitable mission than trying to become a disrupter or even worse bringing in a disruptive leader to transform the company culture. Such an approach is more likely to destruct/damage the company than disrupt the market.

The true assets of established companies are their relationships, their established brand equity and the wisdom accumulated within its value chain. Cultivating the capacity to sense and learn from the forces of change and adapting to the emergent future will help these organizations ride the waves while preserving their core assets. From customer perspective, disrupters are attractive in early stages of adoption, disruptive leaders have charisma in popular imagination; but when it comes to a long term- (100 years long) view, building relationships, resonance, resilience and creating a learning culture is a more sustainable path.

In this context, it is not enough to have a visionary leader. It is also important to establish a culture of innovation in the middle management. While the senior management is busy catering to the expectations of the investors, middle management will be primarily motivated to have an impact- both on the company bottom line, culture and on the society. It is important to motivate people to stay on and accumulate organizational wisdom, purpose and constructive and collaborative work culture. Employees need to be trusted and given the means to tap into this wisdom, learn and grow and dare to take up new projects. Such a work force and culture will help the organzation leapfrog to an emerging future ahead of competition. Insecure work force is not conducive to innovation. Risk taking should be encouraged, failure should be celebrated and learning from failures be rewarded.

We can learn from nature. Research on ants and bees has shown that collective intelligence of a community creates a more powerful intelligence than that of a single intelligent being. The MIT has established a center for collective intelligence which is focused on connecting people and computers so that collectively they act more intelligently than any person, group, or computer has ever done before.

We live in a connected world. We need visionary and empathic organizational structures that will help strengthen relationships and harness connectedness to co-create a future where resources are used mindfully and innovation directed purposefully.

I propose that in addition to the a visionary leadership, it is important to cultivate curiosity, imagination, and collective energy in the organization. An inspired organization will gain the strength, wisdom and vitality, required for staying ahead of the emerging long term future. We need the right tools and methods to invigorate the imagination of an entire value chain, cultivate a sense of purpose and create autonomous innovators at every level of the organization.

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Uday Dandavate

Uday Dandavate

A design activist and ethnographer of social imagination.