Many of today’s successful disruptive entrepreneurs and CEOs such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Elon Musk of Tesla and Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn are celebrated by the media as the rock stars of the new millennium. These men have generated great wealth for themselves, their investors, employees and others while transforming the lives of billions of people.

In addition to meeting and/or working with a few of these well-known business leaders, I have also spent the last two years interviewing and researching other famous and not so famous disruptors for a book I have just finished titled Fearless Disruptions: The Guide to the New Realities of Business and Leadership in the 21st Century. While some of the men and women profiled in the book lead large multi-national corporations, many own and/or run small and medium-size businesses.

In the process I developed what I consider to be eight characteristics specific to this type of leader:

  1. They are “brainiacs”. Disruptive CEOs are dedicated life-long learners, even though several never finished college. They can easily transition from logical reasoning to a more creative, visual and non-linear way of thinking while synthesizing disparate parts into something original and new.

  2. They often push accepted behavioral, cultural, legal and ethical boundaries to the limit. Adjectives used in the media to describe their interactions with others include murderous, goofy, nerdy, technical, complex, introverted, intellectual, non-linear, chaotic, restless, unbusiness-like, laid back, paranoid and perfectionist. Unfortunately, if some more extreme tendencies aren’t reined in properly they can quickly destroy everything they and their team worked hard to build. Travis Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber, is an example of a man who overstepped his bounds and almost destroyed his company.

  3. They have learned how to disrupt their own frames of reference and unproductive mindsets. This helps them increase their focus, ability to innovate and stay one step ahead of would-be competitors. Disruptive business leaders expect and often demand their teams to think and act in the same way.

  4. They look for information, insights, and inspiration in unexpected places. They recognize that data is by nature backward looking and hence of limited value in a world that is being (re-) created. Great disruptors ask excellent questions and listen carefully to the answers because they never know when someone else might have an insight that could be useful to them and their businesses.

  5. Their businesses – regardless of whether they are B2C or B2B – deliver on a least one of three fundamental value propositions: 

    • Increase mankind’s chances of survival. 

    • Provide the services, products, and experiences customers want when they want them, how they want them and/or as cheaply as possible. 

    • Eliminate or reduce the things that diminish the quality of our everyday lives such wasted time and/or money, complexity, poverty or pollution.

  6. When they disrupt an industry they only need to make one or two major changes. They understand that many of the systems already in place will stay the same. The Tesla car – at least to date – has changed almost nothing about the average car’s interior or exterior and the way we drive except they have made them less reliant on fossil fuel. Uber and Lyft have completely disrupted taxi and limousine companies around the world by simply making it possible to order car service via cell phones. Netflix singlehandedly destroyed the bricks and mortar movie rental business by using new technology to order and watch movies.

  7. Their businesses cause short-term negative consequences for other companies, competitors and business people. Some existing organizations are driven out of business and many individual careers are adversely affected. However, the value created for billions of people far outweighs such incidents.

  8. They build companies that successfully implement their ideas. Disruptive enterprises have the funding necessary to execute their plans. They have the right people doing the right jobs with the wherewithal and commitment to push through many break-downs and hurdles. Their organizations are agile and able to shift quickly even as they grow by implementing key processes and structures.