Why Disruptive Leaders Are Not Superheroes 


By Mark Bateman

Disruptive leaders should not be seen as infallible superheroes but rather as human agents of change, driven by purpose and resilience. This article explores why the hero narrative is outdated and how the true essence of disruptive leadership lies in embracing humanity and fostering genuine transformation. 

There is often a misconception that leaders are a superhuman breed. Those in leadership are believed to possess superpowers—strategic thinking, high levels of emotional intelligence, unparalleled resilience, and the ability to stay calm in a crisis. However, the truth is that leaders, including disruptive ones, are as human as the rest of us. They grapple with prioritization, dread difficult conversations, work long hours, battle exhaustion, and face challenges at home. This realization is crucial because it dispels the myth of the superhero leader and brings to light the true essence of disruptive leadership. 

The Human Side of Leadership 

Disruptive leaders are not heroes; they are individuals united in their drive to make a difference. This drive, combined with a set of lived values, enables them to ignite and sustain the fire of innovation where others might fail. Leaders like Srimathi Shivashankar, Corporate VP at HCL Technologies, exemplify this. Her journey from a small village in Tamil Nadu to a leadership position in a global IT services company underscores the human element in leadership. It was her personal experiences and struggles that shaped her purpose and approach, demonstrating that disruptive leaders are shaped by their vulnerabilities and humanity, not by invincibility. 

Srimathi’s story is compelling. Born in a small village, she sensed early on that learning English would help her become more assertive. Despite struggling with the language, she was encouraged by a teacher who stayed after school to help her. Srimathi’s career in IT, starting as a coder and evolving into a corporate role, is a testament to her resilience and determination. Her personal life, particularly her experience with her son who was born with multiple disabilities, profoundly influenced her leadership style. She learned to appreciate true potential and not to underestimate anyone’s capabilities. “He taught me that, as a leader, I may have setbacks, but the only choice is to move forward,” she shared.  

Confidence vs. Courage  

Many leaders struggle with imposter syndrome, questioning their abilities and fearing exposure as frauds. This is more common than one might think, and it highlights an important aspect of disruptive leadership: courage matters more than confidence. Leaders often find themselves in positions where they must act despite their fears and uncertainties. Courage enables them to take bold actions and make tough decisions even when they do not feel confident. This distinction is vital because it shifts the focus from the perceived need for superhuman confidence to the very human trait of courage. 

What can be surprising is how others perceive these leaders. They often describe their peers in glowing terms, unaware that those same leaders feel crippled by imposter syndrome. This disconnect shows that our self-perception can be wildly off, and it underscores the importance of external feedback and coaching. Despite personal doubts, a leader’s actions set the tone for their organization, influencing everything from work culture to operational decisions. 

The Myth of the Hero Leader 

The hero narrative in leadership is outdated and counterproductive. Leaders like Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers and Ken Lay of Enron exemplify how the hero myth can lead to destructive outcomes. These leaders, often characterized by narcissistic traits, pursued grandiose visions without regard for ethical considerations or the well-being of their organizations. Their downfalls serve as cautionary tales against the egotistical, controlling style of leadership that the hero narrative promotes. Instead, disruptive leadership should be about collaboration, empathy, and shared purpose. 

Purpose-Driven Leadership 

Disruptive leaders are driven by a deep sense of purpose, which fuels their actions and decisions, providing the necessary heat to drive change. Disruptive leadership means successfully challenging the status quo, leveraging purpose to inspire and engage others. “If we are not careful, we limit what our people can do,” said Srimathi Shivashankar, highlighting the need to unlock the potential within each team member. They create environments where diverse ideas are welcomed, and constructive feedback is encouraged, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. 

Purpose is the driving force that fuels the disruptive leader’s actions. It generates the energy that propels leaders forward—akin to heat—and sustains their efforts. Without a clear purpose, leadership efforts can falter, but with it, even the most formidable obstacles can be overcome. This purpose-driven approach is not just about achieving goals; it’s about transforming the organization and its culture.  

Sustaining the Fire of Disruption 

To maintain their impact, disruptive leaders must focus on building and sustaining their fire. This involves continuously aligning their actions with their purpose (heat), ensuring they have the necessary resources (fuel), and engaging their audience (oxygen). As disruptive leaders, they must protect their fire from those who seek to stifle innovation and maintain the status quo. This requires a relentless focus on purpose and a commitment to personal and organizational growth.  

Disruptive leaders don’t wait. They act. The difference demands it. They are relentless in their pursuit of change, often standing against significant resistance. They understand that their role is not just to spark the fire of change but to sustain it, ensuring it does not burn out prematurely. This means continuously feeding the fire with new ideas, resources, and support. 


Disruptive leaders are not heroes; they are human. Their strength lies not in superhuman abilities but in their resilience, courage, and unwavering commitment to making a difference. By dispelling the myth of the superhero leader, we can better appreciate the true essence of disruptive leadership: a human-centered approach that embraces vulnerability, fosters collaboration, and drives meaningful change. Disruptive leaders don’t wait. They act. Because the difference demands it. In doing so, we pave the way for a more inclusive, innovative, and sustainable future.

About the Author

Mark BatemanMark Bateman, CEO of WeQual, is a visionary disruptor, corporate adviser and executive coach with a keen focus on leadership development. He partners with global leaders to spark impactful, enduring change and offers unique, real-world insights and actionable strategies to foster authentic, influential leadership. He has decades of business experience, first making his mark as a successful entrepreneur. Now he is committed to the development of leaders worldwide and has amassed over 3,000 hours of executive coaching experience. By boldly questioning the status quo, he helps leaders shape purposeful legacies and drive positive transformations within their organizations. Mark’s new book, Disruptive Leadership, is an essential read for any leader wishing to cement their legacy, challenge the status quo and become the drivers of purposeful change.  


  • Bateman, Mark. Disruptive Leadership: Using Fire to Drive Purposeful Change. Rethink Press, 2024. 


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