2 Kinds of Leadership: Are You a Steve Jobs or a Jack Welch?

DeM Banter:  Nice article … although I still look at the two leadership types as “Greater Good” and “Personal Power,” but I do like the incremental vs disruptive leader as well.  Wonder how to parse those?  I think one could put those together..but could you have a Personal Power / Disruptive Leader?  It might seem that the personal power leader would not be one to take the risks of being disruptive.  Good things to ponder on a Sunday AM.  Any thoughts?  Please post…

inc.com / Mehdi Maghsoodniaview original

Determine your leadership style and you can figure out the best way to approach change.

Great leaders are hard to come by, and they often seem to have more differences than similarities. Some are smooth; some are gruff. Some are aggressive; some excel at politicking.

JackWelsh_CoverThat said, there are really just two basic types of leaders. There are incremental leaders, who maintain the stability of an organization and allow things to develop and grow over time. Then there are disruptive leaders, leaders who work to break down the fundamental structure of things in order to create major, noticeable change.

Both types of leadership can lead to success. Don’t stress yourself out comparing them; it’s beside the point. What is the point, then? Figuring out what type of leader you are will help inform both how you run your company, and ultimately, how your company will impact the world.

You’re in the 90 percent

I estimate 90 percent of leaders are incremental–the stable rock of the company. People like stability and much of our leadership is predicated upon that: These leaders gradually improve the shape of things, without causing sudden, tumultuous changes. Jack Welch of General Electric and Oracle’s Larry Ellison are incremental leaders; they turned good ideas into great ones.

imagesThen there’s the other 10 percent, the disruptive leaders. These leaders make radical adjustments to achieve the kind of change they feel is necessary. Often visionaries, these leaders can only achieve their desired outcome by breaking down the fundamental structure of the organization. Disruptive leaders, like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, needed to break the crystalline structure around them in order to accomplish their goals.

Incremental and disruptive leadership complement each other–and they follow a cyclical, evolutionary pattern. Change generally happens slowly, but when something bond-breaking and nature-altering happens, we take stock of the disruption and adapt. Disruptive leaders foment change, and incremental leaders build on these changes to help solidify their place in the sphere of things.

So, what kind of leader are you?


 Mehdi Maghsoodnia is the CEO of Rafter, which provides a cloud-based platform designed to help colleges make educational content more affordable and effective. He was previously SVP at CafePress and Intellisync. @mmaghsoodnia

6 Replies to “2 Kinds of Leadership: Are You a Steve Jobs or a Jack Welch?”

  1. I’m not sure the author convinced me that Jobs was disruptive, and the notion that Zuckerberg was disruptive just seems ludicrous.

    I’m not sure disruption is actually a leadership style–though it seems to be the fad to describe it that way. Why do I think that? Because I think steering a ship is better than disrupting it. I think slinging a space capsule around the moon and using the existing momentum together with a natural force (gravity) is a better way to bring Apollo 13 back home than stopping it in its track, turning it around, and building up momentum from zero.

    I think that what we are calling disruption is in fact the laying aside of weights, the casting off of ballast to save the ship–it’s putting the gold into the fire and removing the dross.

    It’s only disruption when the org is built of wood, hay, and stubble. For the rest, it’s refinement.

    1. I think disruptive leadership and disruptive innovation might be confused by the author, but they go hand in hand. Apple and Facebook were very disruptive… they disrupted entire industries… think what FB did to social media and just what Apple did to the music industry. So, it would seem to do something disruptive, it would take disruptive thinking… and one could possibly assume that would lead to disruptive leadership. I agree it does seem like a faddish term we us for many different things, but I do think FB and Apple have been pretty disruptive in their given field.

      My fear, when we don’t know what to do, or even what problem to solve we default to needing something disruptive… or we say we want innovative leadership…innovative leadership to do what? What is the incentive to be innovative?

      I guess I believe the most effective leaders actually create change (dare I say disrupt) in the organization and may even influence the environment as a result. I do think…one of the best contemporary examples of this is Steve Jobs’ ability to change Apple upon his 1996 return to the company and the resulting impact he and the company had on global culture….the music industry being one one…but think about computers, tablets, phones, even operating systems…

      I believe leaders can be (and should be) disruptive…they challenge the status quo. They ask tough questions, demand uncomfortable answers, and drive transparency and accountability in everything they do. It will cause problems. It will make people uneasy. And it will raise resistance from those around them. Some entities respect and want this… others… such as bureaucracies might say they want it, but don’t reward or incentivize it.

      But isn’t that what great leadership does…disrupts…changes…betters…evolves? Steering, disruptive, I don’t know… seems to be verbiage and minutia…but in today’s marketing…disruptive seems to resonate and sell… just wait a few years… and we all know there will be a better term

      1. Wasn’t this “disruptive leadership” referred to as “breakthrough leadership” just a year or so ago? Either way, it is what Mark describes as “dropping ballast”. I heard this analogy made just last month and found it well fitting. You can either keep competing the same way as everyone else, or you can break the rules by “cutting away” something which your competitors aren’t yet willing to give up. One thing the author got right, different situations call for different approaches.

      2. Agree the terms come and go. My sister works in bio-tech and we share terms in order to keep up with the latest and sometimes most humorous. DROPPING what? Oh of course ballast…is this resonating in the business world? Of course I can see the Navy liking this, especially in the Submarine career field… perhaps in the USAF as well..but agree, the terms are a bit irrelevant, the actions and leadership are what matter.

      3. Heard a keynote from Bertrand Piccard last month. He is known for two things – first non-stop balloon flight around the earth and first non-stop 24 hour flight by a solar powered plane. His talk was in fact about “dropping ballast”. Maybe he is a good example of a “disruptive” leader (or whatever the nomenclature is for those who break the rules). Here is the link to his TEDtalks video. He gets to the point of dropping ballast within the first 3 minutes. It’s a good inspirational talk.


      4. Will check out the TeD talk…Bertrand Piccard spoke here at Air University when I was at ACSC… I have his autograph… cool stuff.

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