Understanding Leadership in the 21st Century

leadership

21st Century Leadership

How can today’s business leaders keep up with the seismic geopolitical and economic shifts in the world?

What do these mean for their own leadership narratives?

In their newly-released book, The Leadership Lab: Understanding leadership in the 21st century, author Chris Lewis and megatrends analyst Dr. Pippa Malmgren set out to help leaders navigate these changes successfully. Covering everything from how to build a new type of leadership trust when other spheres of public power have been overturned to robots overtaking companies, this book explains not only why the old rules no longer apply, but also how to blaze a trail in this new world order and be the best leader you can be.

I recently had the opportunity to ask the authors about their new book and get their thoughts on some of the most important challenges facing leaders today.

 

“’What do you think?’ are the four most powerful words in a leaders armory.” -Lewis and Malmgren

 

Embrace Uncertainty

What are some of the skills required in the 21st century that are different from previous generations of leaders?

The Leadership Lab front coverThere is but one skill required today that is different from previous generations. That is the willingness and ability to embrace uncertainty. Once a leader has abandoned certainty, they are on the path to excellence. The fact-based, research-led, ‘drill-down’ analytical approach that has historically been followed in the pursuit of efficiency is no longer enough. There’s nothing wrong with this, provided it is not at the expense of a ‘look-across’ big picture view. The reductionist model with one right answer at the back of the book promulgated by the infallible (often male) leader, is disappearing. This means the leader can no longer afford to predict one outcome but must now prepare for all outcomes.

 

“There is but one skill required today that is different from previous generations. That is the willingness and ability to embrace uncertainty.” -Lewis and Malmgren

 

What are some of the dangers of over-relying on data analysis when it comes to leadership? 

Who Are You Serving?

serve to lead

Who Are You Serving?

That’s the question on the back cover of James Strock’s new book Serve to Lead: 21st Century Leaders Manual. It’s the first of four questions posed by the author. Serve to Lead is filled with principles that inspire us to the highest level of leadership. It’s an essential leadership guide for anyone aspiring to take their game to a higher-level. As someone who writes and speaks about servant leadership, I found it a compelling read.

James Strock is an author and leadership speaker, an entrepreneur, and a reformer. I recently asked him to share his perspective on the changing nature of leadership.

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

21st Century Leadership

What has changed in the field of leadership for the 21st Century? 

Our lives and work are undergoing extensive, high-velocity change. It’s inevitable that leadership—which is about relationships and relates to all parts of our world—would be transformed.

Among the most significant changes is the breakdown of longstanding barriers that defined leadership. For example, individuals holding high positions of power traditionally tended to be distant from the those they served. Today, anyone can find a way to communicate with almost anyone else through new technologies. Such individuals no longer have the zones of privacy that separated their personal and professional lives. Elective politicians have been experiencing this new world for some time. Corporate and NGO officials are now liable to be held to account in the same way.

The new trends are part of a transformational change wrought by digital technology. In the 20th Century interactions were generally transactional. Now, by contrast, we’re in a web of relationships. Those relationships can be established or defined by individuals rather than by large public and private institutions.

The ongoing empowerment of individuals and previously isolated or marginalized groups through new technology has accelerated the longstanding trend toward leadership exerted through influence rather than domination or dictation. That doesn’t mean that the world has magically become a utopian paradise or democracy. It does mean that leadership roles are subject to greater accountability, and the tools of workaday management and service are in transition.

 

“Organizations exist to serve. Period. Leaders live to serve. Period.” -Tom Peters

 

What are the unique challenges of our day that impact leadership? 

A unique, unprecedented challenge of 21st-Century leadership is involuntary transparency. Traditional notions of separate work and personal lives are being upended. Presidential candidates are pursued 24/7 by stalkers with video cameras. They lay in wait for a moment of anger, a moment of exhaustion, or a moment of pique. Then they pounce! Skilled propagandists will utilize such human moments to convey a negative narrative that appears more credible through a captured moment that may have no actual relevance.

Those who would lead are being curtailed in their capacity to craft a narrative. One can see advantages when this exposes relevant hypocrisy. Yet there are also costs. It can surely inflame the mistrust and cynicism that is afflicting the populace. It can also prompt people to turn away from positional leadership roles.

How involuntary transparency will be negotiated with expectations of privacy is one of the great questions of evolving 21st-Century leadership.

 

“First, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking.” -Michael Bloomberg

 

Everyone Can Lead