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Disruptive Leadership: Using fire to drive purposeful change

Mark Bateman’s “Disruptive Leadership: Using Fire to Drive Purposeful Change” offers a compelling perspective on leadership derived from his extensive experience running businesses and coaching leaders across diverse global enterprises. Through insightful anecdotes and practical exercises, Bateman explores the challenges and opportunities inherent in disruptive leadership, urging readers to rethink conventional approaches and embrace change. Drawing on the metaphor of fire as a central theme, he skillfully navigates topics such as purpose-driven leadership, navigating constant change, and fostering resilience. With a focus on empathy and inclusivity, Bateman provides a roadmap for leaders to ignite and sustain transformative change, backed by real-world examples and in-depth interviews with seasoned leaders.

Mark Bateman’s Disruptive Leadership, Using Fire to Drove Purposeful Change is written with the benefit of his dual experience of running businesses (his own and Corporate) and subsequently coaching leaders across a wide range of global enterprise, from large to small. He uses this perspective of working across different types of org to bring to life the many challenges that fall under the heading disruptive leadership and tells stories to bring concepts and themes to life in a digestible and enjoyable way. His style takes a form that felt like a personal coaching session(s) with Bateman even a times able to challenges your own thinking in pursuit of purpose. He masterfully provides empathy throughout whilst also enabling space to think about ways to advance leadership style and practises, with the added benefit of many in depth interviews with skilled and experienced leaders (and helpfully sometimes those so got burnt by their fire too), they break down the stra5tegy behind their own approaches to dealing with constant change, making change, thinking completely outside the parameters they are held in and always with a view to using the opportunity of disruption to drive success in their teams, businesses and own careers.

He articulates his model using fire as his central tenant and all that is required to keep this burning in right way – throughout building on this theme to create a comprehensive picture of the challenges and opportunities associated with leadership. He is able to express a sense of genuine empathy and pushes on the importance of elevating this skill in any leadership role, addressing also ways to support what can sometimes feel like a lonely challenge when rising to the top. Critically, he builds on his coaching style to push the reader forward with the idea of disruption and changing the status quo as being a core focus and an area that is the responsibility for a leader to get comfortable with. This is set in context of making playing for long term sustainable success (or even embracing the opportunities of failure) over and above quick wins (think BBQ with burning hot coal versus attempting to cook on firelighters), and he builds on the analogy to help in how to make this a cornerstone in chosen leadership style through developing skills needed and identifying commodities needed to ensure long lasting continual heat. Bateman provides useful contrast in examples which highlight the pitfalls of getting it wrong, or believing in your own hype despite the consequences or guidance of those around you and positions this as ways to avoid leadership style which can douse the flames of the very fire you are trying to create, risk uncontrollable wildfire or equally slowly decline towards flames burning out and embers die. The book offers in my view a fresh perspective on how to approach the sometimes overwhelming number of areas to attend to in a leadership role by stripping back the things which have impact over and above the temptations of business – the benefit of his countless coaching discussions shines through in his text and personalises the stories, creating what feels like a safer space to participate in the various exercises laid into the book as he discusses each condition for realising strategy around disruption and growth.

The analogy of fire throughout builds a framework for how a leader may harness forces of that to achieve highest impact change, continually pulling back to the importance of people in all of this. This felt like a great cross over between leadership at organisational level and application in role of CHRO/CPO. The starting point in the book is understanding one’s own sense of purpose, again in using his strong experience and skill in coaching he helps draw this out of the reader, and I felt in conversation with Bateman as I began to articulate the specific challenges in my own role that purpose can overcome. From this solid starting point the book unfolds the opportunity of creating the right environment or conditions for the fire to burn at the right pace, not too hot (burnout) and never dying embers (risk of working to the status quo). The book has an up to date feel as it navigates the added complexities that a global pandemic threw at leaders and how organizations work, and offered moments of reflection on how this might have played out in your own organisation and critically how it is still impacting all we do going forward. The approach to weaving in the pandemic and the human challenges it created continues the strong sense of empathy and kindness that Bateman so obviously has in the approach he takes to his work – again, striking a clever balance between leadership from Org/CEO perspective and how that applies to people and culture.

Heat, Fuel and Oxygen is helpful as set up around what makes fire burn to enable the purposeful changes leaders seek, it also enabled a framework upon which complex themes can be discussed and worked through, by splitting out what is your heat (opportunity), where does your fuel come from (people + money) and how to ensure oxygen (market) is kept constant. Bateman should be credited for his pivot around kindness which is ever present in his writing and never underestimated in the ways he describes how to be commercially focussed and driven by success, his commitment to wellbeing and people centric leadership and inclusion of contributions from various People leaders, made this feel like a relevant HR leaders guide at times too, without losing itself in that – business impact and success retained throughout – nice work !

A feature of the book which particularly appealed to me was also his extensive network of diverse leaders operating in companies that faced many different challenges, yet similarly shared aspects of the importance of creating purpose driven leadership and its impact on the business and its workforce. These examples were discussed in detailed interviews he shares and again created the sense of being in a coaching conversation with Bateman as he highlighted ways in which success had been achieved by the interviews and equally exploration of the failures they have encountered along the way. The benefits I felt from this approach were being able to openly list out my own blockers and framing them in context of how to order highest impact items way over and above the rest. The techniques used in the text to sketch out these ideas and exercises to consider using in own teams back in the workplace provided a unique strength to this book – practical, useful, and personal … sometimes that connection is difficult to make when examples used include the mega stories associated with Uber, Tesla and/or Virgin. Bateman manages to bring context to these experiences that feels valuable and applicable in any leadership role, through his skilful sharing of coaching conversations the logic and thinking power behind approach starts to unveil and can be added to the fire framework as tools in the kit to draw on in own role. His contributions are an impressive set of leaders, and particularly a great cross section of different people, demographics and businesses – it never felt lofty, inaccessible or name dropping … sure, some big names in there, but Bateman is able to pull down the relevant components, skills, thinking styles, personal insights to bring these mega orgs just a little closer to the challenges we all face in our leadership roles, regardless of location, function or org size every day.  A useful read and investment in time, and certainly restarted my own fire and put my focus and time as a leader clearly on making sure I provide all the conditions to keep it going !

Published by Rethink Press

Reviewed by Brian Newman, Vice President – Human Resources at Ticketmaster

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