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Leadership for the 21st Century

Submitted by  on November 2nd, 2012

Red piece standing in front of six blue piecesDid you know that there is a gap between what we know about leadership and what we actually do? I’ve recently published a series of articles on a white paper by Skillsoft entitled Actionable Leadership in the Creative Age. The study set out to ascertain what people’s views are on the leadership characteristics required for success in this century, as contrasted with the previous one. Over 1,100 participants from across the globe shared their views. Six unsurprising characteristics were highlighted. However, the confirmation in the study of a sizable gap – a weakness in 21st Century leadership – triggered my in-depth exploration of the study and the issues it raises.

Skillsoft put forward an approach for bringing its six identified leadership characteristics into practice in the form of seven techniques. I split their proposed techniques into two main themes. In my first article, Four Actionable Leadership Techniques for Today’s Leaders, I look at how to overcome fear and inertia and revisit time management practices. I then go on discuss why a bias for action is critical and emphasize the need to understand what employees experience as motivational versus management’s often mistaken assumptions about what fires up workers.

In my next article in the series, Three Learning and Motivation Practices for 21st Century Leaders, I discuss Skillsoft’s interesting suggestion advocating the use of the speed and direction (velocity) of learning for heightened learning and competence. They propose coupling this with the second technique, creating a “growth” mindset in the organization. The last technique I discuss in this article is, like so many of the others, a new take on an old practice. It is about bringing goals to life for each employee. I talk about how to give employees a sense of purpose when engaging in goal-setting activities.

My final article in the series is, Leadership Study Reveals Six Key Characteristics of Successful Leaders. In it, I discuss the six characteristics identified in the Skillsoft study and explore why they are important in our time. I offer some ideas on how to make them more evident in our daily leadership practices. These six leadership characteristics are:

  • global perspective
  • future-focused
  • excels at building relationships
  • high level of integrity
  • collaborative approach
  • open to new ideas

There are no surprises in this list. Although some of them carry over from the previous century, they are here with an altered perspective, as we would expect. Old practices and techniques are being finessed to be appropriate for this new and rapidly changing age. Each characteristic is not a standalone. The six characteristics work together as ingredients for an awesome leadership recipe. Each leader who works at it will nuance their style and practice differently, as a good chef does. A little more garlic or a little less lime juice and you know you have the dish, but with your personal signature.

If we look for a formula in the Skillsoft study, we can find one. If it is applied by rote, each element in sequence, one at a time, the end result will be a string of new “interventions” perhaps. What we need, however, is an integrated, seamless new century leadership practice. The dish can be boring, predictable, no longer nutritious or exciting, or it can be thrilling and appropriate for a new understanding of our nutritional (leadership) needs: the new actionable leadership.

I wonder how your picture of 21st Century leadership practices looks. Do you have some practical examples of how the Skillsoft leadership portrait manifests itself in your practice that you are willing to share with us? Or perhaps you have a contrary view: an alternate leadership profile that is highly successful and practically evident in your world? I encourage you to review my three articles and share your perspectives here. We’d love to hear from you.


  • Skillsoft Ireland Limited (2012). Actionable Leadership in the Creative Age

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Posted in Research, Talent | Comments (2)

2 Responses to “Leadership for the 21st Century”

  1. Rebecca Pelke Says:

    Great insights about leadership! I especially like the leadership characteristic, excels at building relationships. I think it is really important to be able to build relationships and maintain them. It’s a lot about ‘who you know’ and not ‘what you know’ these days. Leadership involves many characteristics and it is great to practice all of them to become the best leader possible for your employees and co-workers.

  2. Leslie Allan Says:

    Thanks Rebecca for your great comments. You are dead right. You may be technically brilliant, but if your peers, direct reports and clients can’t work with you, then you achieve little. And isn’t that what leadership is about; achieving results through others.

    Kind Regards, Les Allan

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