Steve Jobs or Jack Welch: Which Kind of Leader Are You?

Radhika Sivadi

2 min read ·


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.

That 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. Then 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?

Here’s the quiz: Do you want to strengthen and grow your organization, helping to build upon an existing idea that you believe in and believe that you can make better? Or do you want to do away with the foundation, to start from scratch and create something brand new?

Both approaches can bring you success, and allow you to run a great company. But misjudge your approach and you will end up with inefficiency and a sloppy organization.

Don’t force major changes if you’re not prepared to deal with the pushback. And don’t limit yourself to slow-building change if you can’t reconcile yourself to a pre-existing structure. Determine your preferred leadership type, and then aim for greatness.

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    Radhika Sivadi