Refined Disruptive Leadership: The MLK Impact

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Picture a massive tidal wave coming towards you, standing on the shore, you see it approaching, knowing you need to do something, but since you have no tools, no covering, no way of stopping it, no knowledge and only understand how to navigate calm waters, you give into the wave and drown. This sadly is the current risk facing many established organizations. Outdated rules, policies, and leadership practices just will not sustain institutions. Leaders must proactively initiate disruptive changes within a controlled environment; the alternative traditional reactive approaches lead to inevitable failure.

As we embark upon the annual celebration of the life and service of Martin Luther King, Jr. he is without question the most prominent disruptive leaders of our time. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the predominant leader of the Civil Rights Movement to end segregation and discrimination in America and leading spokesperson for nonviolent methods of achieving social change. Not only did he lead the Civil Rights Movement, but he was such an inspiration about life that often goes unnoticed. His eloquence as a speaker and his charisma, combined with a deeply rooted determination to establish equality among all races despite personal risk won him world-wide notoriety.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was selected by Time Magazine as its Man of the Year. His “I Have a Dream” speech, which is now considered to be among the high addresses of American history, is frequently quoted. He was detained and arrested over 20 times, and his home was bombed as his work to disrupt the status quo, and propel change is still being unveiled today. Eventually, he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of a motel in Memphis. A monument to Dr. King was unveiled in Washington, DC in 2012. I had the pleasure of visiting the memorial several times while conducting business in the DC area. In my view, he was the ultimate refined disruptive leader.

“I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today more than ever, in this business climate of unchartered waters and changing perspectives, Refined Disruptive Leadership is critical. Driving winning strategies during a time when our existence is marked by rapid change within an increasingly unsettled world, requires the skillful ability to navigate organizational disruptions. But disrupting a business culture can lead to many leadership mistakes, it’s not just about merely being “disruptive” (the new buzz word) the leadership must first be “refined.”

I certainly don’t consider myself at the level of the likes of Martin Luther King or other leaders who I strongly admire, however, through the years, my evolution as a leader has shaped and prepared me to navigate some particularly rough environments. It has made me keenly aware of the challenges my counterparts face when they have not developed the instinct, knowledge, political savvy and flexibility to lead in the current rapidly changing ecosystem successfully.

While we may not always know when and how they are coming, any good leader is continuously preparing their teams for disruptions. Natural disasters like the recent Southern California fires, political changes, swift changes in the markets, customer demands — all examples of rapid changes requiring the ability to guide your teams to pivot quickly.

Leadership has evolved over the years. Gaining and growing a few “Refined Disruptive Leadership” core competencies are the central staples of today’s ever-changing business climate:

For any leader, having a clear VISION and articulating it well is a core competency. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the ultimate visionary as you can see with his prophetic utterance in the I Have A Dream speech and his infamous letter from the Birmingham jail. Any leader who is going to change the world, or at least the world around them, must be visionary. Vision is the roadmap to greatness. It is the single, most relevant competency in inspiring a group of people to their destiny. It’s the sun in the sky that brightens the day to a future unrealized. In times of hasty change, people need to be inspired by a strong vision — I hope you get my point.

Secondly, successful disruptive leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. show HUMILITY and a willingness to seek diverse inputs from their inner circle, and from others outside of their circle. In today’s world, people have access to information, and often have more profound insights or are subject matter experts that can inform strategic decisions. Encouraging, leading, and developing such a culture will serve as a substitute for indecision, lack of expertise in a particular area, and empower others around you to help you succeed. It’s always been my practice to hire subject matter experts, and trust in them to inform your decisions as a leader. Be ok with not knowing everything. The magic and of your leadership is not in knowing everything, but in understanding how to get to the answers needed.

While humility allows leaders to put their egos to the side and open themselves to new ideas and innovations, being ADAPTABLE is paramount in the process. Without it, the capacity to respond to leadership disruption is severely restricted. A humble and adaptable leader is willing to change his or her mind when additional information is brought to the forefront, and then masterfully communicate that newly minted adaptation to others. This is also the art of correcting wrong or weak decisions and being able to pivot as necessary. It is not a weakness for you; it is an essential skill set in today’s environment. Dealing with fast-changing cultural and business impacts requires swift action and adaptability.

“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men, and white men, Jews, and Gentiles, Protestants, and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! thank God All mighty, we are free at last!” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Leadership success has taken a new path, the proficiencies once seen as secondary soft skills are now recognized as the primary drivers in producing winning outcomes. The sheer unpredictability of businesses today means traditional analytical leadership approaches are failing to provide the definitive long-term strategies needed for success. Refined Disruptive Leaders are humble, adaptable, visionaries. They know the tidal wave is not coming — it’s here; either you drown or ride the wave to success.



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Gregory C. Scott

Chief Executive Officer | Scott Impact Group | Leadership | Speakership | Authorship | Civic Engagement |