What does a 21st century leader need to do?




I often swipe images for blog posts from Bing or Google. Looking for images of leader, I was surprised when all that came up were militarist images of leaders as exalted commanders. No citizen leaders here! There’s a lot of bad baggage to clear away before we implant the meme of servant leadership. So forget those pictures and image a network of equals.

When I say leader, I’m referring to hands-on managers and professionals at all levels, everyone who thinks for a living. All of us must be leaders today, for the ground is forever shifting beneath our feed. And what does a leader need to do? This is the main question I’m addressing in the 21C Leadership Project.  I believe that:

  • Front-line leaders must build emotionally committed teams to push beyond today’s constraints.
  • Exemplary leaders build and coach teams, feel personally empowered, leverage the power of people, and continuously improve performance.
  • Outstanding leaders inspire others with the excitement of their vision, give people a sense of pride in their work, redefine the bottom line to include developing people, replace one-time events with ongoing practices, hire fantastic people, and see opportunities where others see trouble.
  • Effective coaches listen more than they talk, celebrate progress, manage by getting out of the way, focus on outcomes, and continually raise the bar.
  • Successful leaders tap into their people’s innate desire to excel, engage their people’s hearts and minds, share information, give others the gift of space, trust their followers to do what is right, and build commitment by showing how each person’s work links directly to delivery of value to the customer.
  • Change agents do whatever it takes to keep the customer coming back, make the task clear, transform the way business is done, use the 80/20 rule and focus on the 20, provide great service, and compete on value.
  • Successful leaders know who they are, choose a leadership style that works for them, lead balanced lives, manage time wisely, use informal networks to get things done, express themselves fully and well, reflect on their experience, and have confidence that they can get the job done.
  • The best front-line leaders believe in themselves, take at least 15 minutes a day to reflect on the big picture, are known for what they do/not what they say, have a passion for their jobs, and enjoy life.
  • Top leaders possess the ability to inspire, judgment, character, intelligence, empathy, charisma, and toughness. Their work entails vision, trust, listening, authenticity, integrity, hope, and, especially, the true needs of followers.

Do you agree? What’s missing?

A whole lot. You see, I wrote the preceding words 15 years ago, before we had the web, a 24×7 business environment, and a connected world. My boss had called me into his office to talk over a new project. Should we develop a course to improve the performance of managers of business development in retail banks? Would I like to research the topic for us? YES! I jumped at the opportunity. I read 18 books on management and talked with scores of managers.

When searching for my files for something else this morning, I came upon my conclusions from 1996. It’s a little scary to see how little has changed in 15 years. Or that I have been singing the same song for so long. Maybe some of this is bedrock.




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