Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Disruptive Leadership (Part 2) – Constructive Disruptors vs Destructive Disruptors

My educational background is in chemistry. I have always considered myself to be quite technical in the way I think and the influences it has on my decision making. As much as I enjoy being a techie, sometimes I feel like I am missing the bigger picture. Occasionally I fail to see the business and economic aspect of things. Of late, I have been having a lot of interest in subjects such as economics, business and leadership. I have been reading a number of books and blogs on these topics, but given my current personal circumstances, I find time to be a luxury that I have yet to afford. It is an excuse, I get it. So say no more. I have been a huge fan of BFM 89.9, which I find to be an extraordinary radio station that is heavily focused on business, finance, economy and leadership. They conduct interesting interviews with various industry leaders and experts on things that I find to matter most. They provide critical reviews on a range of relevant blogs that I frequently visit. Since I will get stuck in traffic anyway, might as well kill two birds with one stone.

In one of their recent interview sessions, an ex-journalist by the name of Kee Tuan Chye shared how his passion for writing was deeply motivated by his desires to seek and reveal the truth, and often this got him into trouble with the chief editors and so on. He used to be reprimanded for wanting to make right what he believed to be wrong. He would reach out to the public through his writings. He had hoped to do whatever little he can so that someday the country would be a better place for the future generations. Whether or not he succeeds, is a different story.

Listening to him speak, I realize that he has been trying to disrupt the existing system which he believes to be flawed. And I thought to myself, you don't necessarily need to be a politician in power to bring about transformation. It is a common mistake to think that you are a nobody of significance to be reckoned with. In my last post, I wrote about disruptive leadership. Everyone one of us can be a disruptive leader if we choose to be one. The power vested in a voter would mean that we, the “commoners”, can dictate what we would like to see happen to our country. In fact, to think about it, we are the leaders, and the so-called self-professed leaders-cum-politicians are effectively our followers. But this is only true for as long as we choose to exercise our duty as the leaders. And for as long as we choose not to take that responsibility, then we have to be contented with whatever and however the “followers” choose to lead.

And if you think about it again, there are many other ways to bring about disruption to the existing system. Disruptive leaders do not necessarily have to be individuals. It could be an organization. It could be the corporate sector. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), for example, was initiated on the basis that more needs to, can and should be done to ensure that the palm industry is sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. It was started as a voluntary initiative by a group of companies who sought to disrupt the common practice in the palm industry which they thought was not sustainable. There you go, a disruption at work!

There are many other organizations in this world that have challenged the existing institutional systems that they wish to disrupt. Believe it or not, the corporate sectors can also be extremely influential when it comes to initiating change or pushing for policy reforms. We have all heard of the Google-China saga. Some of us have seen the news of how several multinational companies (sorry-no name and shame here), which was once criticized for procuring goods from Chinese suppliers that violate international labour laws. Subsequently, these multinational companies have adopted their own internal procurement standards to ensure that they no longer get supplies from such discriminatory companies. A glitch in business as usual and bham, now China has made known their commitments to end child labour and abuse. Such actions, though voluntary, can be an impetus for a bigger reform and transformation. These are indeed disruptive leaderships, but through creative means. You don't need to be a prime minister to enforce change. You don't even need to be minister to drive transformation. All you need is the willingness to disrupt status quo by being a creative disruptor.

But of course one will argue that not all disruptions are necessarily good and indeed that is true. A destructive disruptor will bring more harm than good. A disruptive leader with personal motives and agenda can be extremely destructive. We have seen many of this throughout history. Adolf Hitler is a case in point. He had a large crowd of ardent followers and thus making him a leader by nature. He managed to, successfully if I may add, disrupt the established institutional system. But he brought more harm than good - though it is worth noting that if he is still alive, he would probably deny this. It's a classic case of a destructive-disruptive leader. Sadly to say, I think we have more destructive disruptors than constructive disruptors, but of course not to the extent of the destruction that Hitler had caused.

In an ideal world, we want our government to be the constructive disruptors. But realistically, under the present scenario and in the world that we live in, we need more creative-constructive disruptors. To that end, i should probably register as a voter now!


  1. To think about it, Mac, our country and the world would certainly be a much better place if we have more people like you - optimistic in your outlook, pragmatic in your approach and creative in your thinking.

    A toast to the future. :)

  2. I like your thinking and must admit that you have an eloquent way of making your case. For me though your thoughts are just in their infancy. The problem is that most individuals 'commoners' as you refer to us just do not know anymore how to be constructively disruptive- there is a lack of creativity as you call it. I actually include myself- how to stop the machine? Sure we have excellent journalists not afraid to point of what they feel is wrong but most of us do not have 'that' gift and the leverage of single contributors is often negligible. What I am trying to say is that we might all 'have a dream' but there was just one M. L. King. And yes I do vote, but that is leading by proxy and often very frustrating.
    I fully take your point about it is in our own hands, and I do want to be a creative constructive disruptor, but I fear like most I might be a follower.
    Remember the global recession only a couple months ago. Many lost their livelihoods to a system they do not even grasp! What did these people do wrong and or what could we all have done as creative constructive disruptors to avoid the crises? I think most of us just so not know what to do - we seem to be in a state of self inflicted apathy.
    Please let me know what I can do to ensure that nobody is hungry with access to medical care and education. I will not ask for more.