September 1, 2015
The Twenty-first Century Leader
The days of fearing Y2K and its gloomy aftermath are behind us, and we are now well into the twenty-first century.
Are the skills required for leadership in modern society changing?
Last updated September 5, 2015 at
This century has already given us two extremes of characters and leadership styles, in two different and opposite realms of human organization. The political realm of the U.S. presidency (supposedly secular) witnessed the extremes of George W. Bush's folksy, religious, cowboy-esque, decisive, gut-based, and simplistic style, as well as Barack Obama's eloquent, nuanced, inquisitive, rational, and professorial style. Some have explained that President Obama is more like a facilitator of change than a director of change.
The religious realm also saw two stark contrasts, from Pope Benedict's intellectual, conservative, exclusive, bookish and ceremonial style that lavished himself in much of the pomp that the position awards, to Pope Francis's self-effacing, humble, leader-as-servant, inclusive and people-oriented style that is not afraid of criticizing the status quo, even in his own organization.
I've been reading a lot on management lately, particularly Jim Collins' 2001 work, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't. One of the book's many excellent insights into the process of successfully leading a company includes the counterintuitive finding that effective leaders are not, as we might have expected, the charismatic and self-centered forces of nature that demand attention everywhere they go.
Instead, the successful leaders demonstrated humility, perseverance, creativity, the ability to accept and face hard truths, and the discipline to hire and keep the right people on their team.
"Level 5" leaders, as both Collins and John Maxwell refer to them, are people-oriented, focus on their organization's strengths, create momentum in their organization, and are great mentors because they feel responsible for developing others. Instead of seeking recognition and the limelight, Level 5 leaders are propelled by a profound desire to create a long-lasting and efficient organization.
"Successful people have discovered what they're good at. Successful leaders discover what other people are good at. Successful people position themselves well. Successful leaders position other people well."
|- John Maxwell
Are these characteristics of leadership new
, or have they always been significant?
Roselinde Torres, senior partner of The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), writes that the 21st century faces six fundamental changes to the business context, which necessitate some new rules for leadership
. She identifies the six changes as:
- Intensified global and local competition
- Increasing importance of multiple stakeholders
- Faster rate of information and innovation
- Greater uncertainty and ambiguity
- Greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility
- Greater need for virtual teams that transcend an organization.
In addition to the timeless attributes of integrity, courage, judgment, vision, and ambition, Torres identifies four qualities that 21st century leaders need in order to successfully face these new conditions:
- The ability to Navigate. Embrace global uncertainty and chart a clear course.
- The ability to Empathize. Understand perspectives different from their own.
- The ability to Self-correct. Leaders need to question the status-quo, examine the environment, and correct outdated modes of business and leadership.
- The ability to Create win-win situations. With more and more stakeholders to consider, leaders need to be more creative about helping multiple constituencies.
There is so much to say on this topic. In subsequent posts, I will highlight some phenomenal people who I view as being exemplary 21st century leaders.
Who are your role models and mentors? Who has inspired you on a professional level? Do you think the business world has changed? What do you see as the most important attributes of successful leadership today? I look forward to your comments below.