A New Vision of Leadership

by Travis Blackwell

The 21st century leader is one who empowers others to be leaders. Managers and supervisors must now embrace the techniques, challenges and benefits of Facilitative Leadership.

Consider the following quote:

The old world was composed of bosses who told you what to do and think, told you to keep your head down and mouth shut, and made all the decisions, ... In the new world, no manager can know everything or make every decision. Now, to be successful, a manager has to work in partnership, in collaboration, with everyone, and tap everyone's ideas and intelligence. Managers now are coaches, counselors and team builders ... Their job is to find people with talent and skill, and help them work together toward a common purpose.

– Ron Zemke, 'The Call of Community', Training, Vol.33, No.3, 1996, p.28

The statistics are alarming.

  • Less than half of all employees feel a strong personal attachment to their organizations.
  • Sixty percent of employees don't feel their companies develop them for the long term.
  • Only 40% of employees feel their organizations show care and concern for them.
  • The average employee has 12-15 jobs during his or her career and 5-7 by the time he or she turns 30.
  • Only 24% of employees are truly loyal to their organizations - meaning that they have a strong personal attachment to their companies and plan to stay for the next two years.
  • Replacing key employees costs between 70 to 200% of their annual salaries.
  • 57% of employees say they are unhappy in their current job.

With a talent shortage looming, unhappy and disloyal employees, costly turnover and decreasing productivity – all of which have a huge impact on an organization's bottom line – leaders and managers are finding it difficult to stay competitive in today's global marketplace. How is a leader to retain the best and brightest talent, foster productivity, and cultivate a competitive edge?

Leaders first need to understand the changing mindset of American workers.

What contributes to job satisfaction? It is rarely just a paycheck. According to the Retention and Engagement Drivers Report by The Jordon Evans Group, August 12, 2004:

  • 48.4% say Exciting Work and Challenge
  • 42.6% say Career Growth, Learning, and Development
  • 41.8% say Working with great people in positive relationships

Underlying these statistics are employees' expectations of certain unwritten privileges: to maintain their differences, to be who they are, to have the opportunity to express themselves and their ideas, and to be heard in a meaningful way.

The good news is that employees who are given these "privileges" have a much higher sense of job satisfaction, are more committed to the organization, more productive and have higher retention rates. They deliver high performance, and give their very best in completing tasks in which they have assumed some personal control.

Across the board in today's society, people are demanding more involvement in the decisions that affect them. No longer do we find the blind acceptance of previously unchallenged authorities such as governments, institutions, or even workplace management. Whether leaders like it or not, today's norm of rapid-fire, on-demand information transfer has set up a cultural expectation of choice, responsibility and freedom.

Today's challenges call for a fundamental transformation of management style and culture.

To accommodate this transformation, leaders will need to develop new skills and put on several more hats than they may currently be wearing. The 21st century facilitative leader must act as:


The new leader must make a conscious effort to hear and understand the content, meaning, and feeling related to what is said. He or she must raise employees' awareness of facts, issues, and implications, and impart responsibility to increase individual and corporate productivity.


The new leader must be non-judgmental when looking at new ideas. Be receptive to new visions, even if they may seem impractical or unrealistic at first.


The new leader must ignite a fire within the staff or group, and keep it well lit. The leader must establish the organizational momentum and keep the pace. He or she must generate and embrace change.


The new leader must follow experimental trails in the search for new ground. Be adventurous, unconventional. Challenge your personal limits and take risks.


The new leader must find similarities and commonalities where others see only differences. He or she must look for individuals' potential in forming teams and assigning tasks. He or she must be flexible and open, and observe with all senses.


The new leader must be detailed, resourceful, focused and inventive. He or she is process-oriented and can visualize materials coming together to create a finished product.


The new leader must be aware of the signs of potential strain, weariness, aggravation and disempowerment, and be proactive to avoid dysfunctional behavior.


The new leader should, at every opportunity, praise the effort put forth, the progress made, and the results achieved. Praise well, praise often, praise specifically!

All of these skills and qualities must be developed in today's leader. But it is just as important to know where these qualities are represented on your team, or if any of them are missing. Knowing how your co-workers think and are prone to act is paramount to effective teamwork. This knowledge is also extremely valuable for leaders when forming sub-teams and assigning tasks to know the creative mindsets of their team members.

Copyright © Travis Blackwell

About the Author

Travis Blackwell is a coach and consultant specializing in helping businesses and organizations access and utilize the talent and diversity within their staff and board. He offers free tools for leaders at his website:

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