In a recent survey, the Skillsoft organization identified the six top characteristics of a 21st century leader. As I read and reflected on the material, I had a sense of the old mixing with the new, the need to adapt to a quickly changing cultural landscape while staying rooted in values that have held our society together over the centuries. Here are some of my perspectives on these six leadership traits.
1. Global Perspective – The ability to do business worldwide has exploded in the past few years. The internet has made it possible for a small manufacturer to sell items directly to the world marketplace through sites such as Amazon and eBay without making any major organizational investments. Any leader must avoid being limited by a provincial viewpoint but must maintain an unrestrained perspective regarding future markets.
2. Forward-looking – Not only are markets changing from a global perspective but the pace of new products and niche markets means that leaders must do a better job of estimating where the next opportunity lies. As I considered this trait, I found some interesting information. First is a Forbes article, “10 Jobs That Didn’t Exist 10 Years Ago” which mentions positions such at App Developer, Social Media Manager and Chief Listening Officer. Second was a Business Insider article, “21 Things That Became Obsolete This Decade” including maps, long distance charges, phone books and VCR’s! Leaders who are stuck in old thinking will soon be added to this list! Leaders must not only keep up with current trends, but must be able to predict, at least in his or her industry, what the future will look like.
3. Relationship-builder – If a person wishes to lead quality people and do it for a long time, they need to build solid, mutually beneficial relationships. While some people like to think that they can “do it all themselves”, history shows us that great leaders are able to bring others together for a cause. This cannot be done unless that leader has built trusting and authentic relationships.
4. High Integrity – A few years ago I was working with a high school teacher who told me that she believed that, “every successful business person has to cheat to get there.” While manipulating, cheating, backstabbing and other selfish traits may work once or twice, over time it is the honest and forthright leader that wins the respect of their staff and their clients. The leaders I deal with plan to stay at that level for a very long time. To do that they need to maintain a high level of integrity.
5. Collaborative – In this age of information and expertise, it is impossible for the leader to know everything he or she needs to know to make an informed decision. Others must be relied upon to bring their knowledge and experience to the table. Often it is hard for this collection of experts to agree on a unified path. The leader needs to pull these disparate opinions together for a cohesive effort in order to attain the goal. In the words of Golda Meir, “I never did anything alone. Whatever was accomplished in this country was accomplished collectively.”
6. Open-minded – History is rife with examples of businesses that suffered because the leader wasn’t open to changing and adapting to the needs of their customers and the marketplace. Right now retail chains such as Sears and Radio Shack are on the verge of failure and former powerhouse brands such as Blackberry and Aeropostale might not survive the year. Perhaps we could blame this on competition, but it is just as likely that the leaders of these organizations were so enamored with past successes that they failed to make the corrections necessary to thrive in a changing market environment.
In his great work As a Man Thinketh James Allen states, “Men (people) are anxious to improve their circumstance, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.” If you want to develop the traits of a 21st Century leader you need to improve and learn from the great leaders of today. REACH Development Systems is a certified trainer of the John Maxwell programs where you and your executive team can develop the traits you will need to lead effectively into the future.