These 6 Business Leaders Reinvented Their Industries. Here’s How They Did It.

Self-confidence isn’t exactly in short supply in the ranks of executive leadership. Nor is true to life leadership acumen. Indeed, it’s fairly difficult for strivers lacking either attribute to rise to the top of the corporate heap.

These strivers tend to leave their mark on their organizations, but many remain more or less anonymous to those whose lives they haven’t directly touched. Only a rare few manage to make a lasting impact on the wider world.

What separates competent corporate leaders who toil more or less in obscurity from those who earn a rightful place in the annals of history? These five (mostly) contemporary leaders offer some important clues for those hoping to follow in their footsteps.

1. Tony Hsieh

Zappos founder Tony Hsieh is best known for inventing a new way to sell shoes, but that’s only part of what makes him larger than life. Hsieh is simultaneously a founding father of ecommerce and a guy who you probably wouldn’t look at twice (mohawk notwithstanding) were you to pass him on the street — or in the trailer park he still calls home. Like few other titans of industry, Hsieh makes a compelling case for humility.

2. Todd Leebow

Majestic Steel USA president and CEO Todd Leebow has taken it upon himself to reinvent a proud but hidebound industry for the 21st century. It’s not just that his company is nationally recognized as a great place to work, nor that he’s managed to grow at a strong clip during a period of retrenchment for the steel industry. Leebow is a true visionary, a trait that comes through most clearly in his next-generation digital metals marketplace — the first of its kind.

3. Elon Musk

Elon Musk has reinvented himself so many times, and not always in flattering form, that it’s easy to forget how many industries he’s disrupted along the way. Were nothing else known about the man, his work at PayPal alone would cement his status as a tech legend.

4. Steve Jobs

What more can we say? Jobs’ premature death left a gaping void in the consumer electronics space, one that most observers rightly believe can never truly be filled. But his legacy lives on in the handheld supercomputer that spawned a thousand knockoffs and revolutionized the information economy.

5. Adi Tatarko

Adi Tatarko is, at heart, a pragmatic problem solver. She just happened to solve a problem that bedeviled millions of homeowners like her, better than any entrepreneur before her. In the process, she set forth a compelling example for “entrepreneurs next door” — those nicer and more down to earth, if no less ambitious, than strivers like Jobs.

Disruption Is Not Enough

All five of these famous executives can plausibly claim the mantle of “disruption.” All are known beyond the four walls of their organizations precisely because they’ve hit on new ways of doing things, pushing their industries (and the buying public) in new and unexpected directions.

But none of these leaders are content to rest on their disruptive laurels. All drive (or drove, during their lifetimes) the conversation around what it means to be a corporate citizen. These are well-rounded, larger than life people whose accomplishments on the corporate playing field only begin to capture their human worth.

In short, these business leaders stand as models for us all. Let their examples guide your own good works, in business and in life.

Adam Hansen