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21st Century Leadership: The Lay of the Land


Here we are well into the 21st Century. So, what does the leadership landscape look like? Certainly, things are moving faster now than in the previous century, but I see that as a given. When has that ever not been the case? But there are some new features of the landscape we didn’t see in the 20th Century including augmented workforces, leading networks, flattened organizations, and co-leadership. And the landscape continues to change, ideas like social responsibility, inclusion, fairness, and complexity are reshaping the landscape, eroding old features like command-and-control and building up new ones such as leadership transparency and internal collaboration.


A new and prominent feature that’s popped up over the past few years is the talent shortage. A recent report by Korn Ferry tells us that “…by 2030, there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people, or roughly equivalent to the population of Germany. Left unchecked, in 2030 that talent shortage could result in about $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues.” If the report is even partially accurate, then the old adage that employees leave their bosses and not companies becomes much more meaningful, especially when we recognize that research shows even in the 21st Century the number one reason employees leave their jobs is still a leader’s poor performance.


The features I’ve mentioned above are a small sample of the hills and valleys leaders in this century face so we can say with some confidence that things are different for leaders in the 21st Century and it begs the question―How well are leaders navigating the landscape?


Most of the leadership development programs I’m familiar with continue to foster old models of leadership. Research by Deloitte confirms this, “our research shows that while organizations expect new leadership capabilities, they are still largely promoting traditional models and mindsets—when they should be developing skills and measuring leadership in ways that help leaders effectively navigate greater ambiguity, take charge of rapid change, and engage with external and internal stakeholders.” The same research indicates that while 80% of those surveyed recognize 21st-century leaders faces unique challenges only 30% or the respondents say they are effectively developing leaders to meet them.



21st Century Leadership Skills

So, what are the skills a leader needs to navigate this new and changing landscape? Surprisingly some of the tried-and-true leadership skills still apply in this new landscape:

· Self-Awareness

· Communication

· Influence

· Coaching

· Change Leadership

· Business Acumen


Organizations in the 21st Century are more social and emergent than in the previous century. The metaphor of organizations as organic living organisms has never been more appropriate. Organizations are more diverse than every before―at least in the West―and movements like Me Too and We Are The 99% are keeping steady pressure on them and their leaders. Leaders need new skills to navigate this landscape:

· Mindfulness

· Leading remotely

· Navigating Ambiguity

· Social awareness

· Emotional Intelligence 2.0

· Post-Heroic Leadership

· Community Building

· Creating Value and Meaning


I must admit, my internal Baby Boomer sees these new skills as all touchy-feely fluff. But as an academic and as a consultant who sees the struggles leaders and organizations are going through, I recognize their validity and the need to develop them. The idea of “Boss” is becoming a mirage in our new landscape. Some would say even the moniker of manager is fading as well. It will be very interesting to see how the leadership landscape continues to change and to adapt and travel through it.


What’s your experience? How can we better prepare our leaders for navigating this ever-changing landscape? I’d love to here.


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