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4 Critical Tasks Of The Effective 21st Century Leader

When considering future of work trends, it’s especially important to think through the type of leadership that will be required in this ever-evolving business landscape. Some have already examined this question. For instance, according to DDI’s 2016 global study of 15,000 executives in 18 countries, there are certain personality traits and attributes that make it more likely that a person will succeed in a 21st century business world leadership role. I’ll use this opportunity to review DDI’s findings of the most effective leader qualities and share my own point of view as well.

Managing Complexity 

The DDI report profiled 243 CEO finalists, in 48 organizations, and benchmarked them against its larger database. The study learned that the most successful CEO candidates instantly and accurately size up complex business situations. Relying on seasoned business instincts, they quickly sort the good business ideas from the bad so they can steer toward best bets.

Once they determine the best path forward, they stay laser focused on outcomes and demand specifics on how results will be achieved. They also embody the customer persona so that they can diagnose how business plans will meet customer needs now and in the future.

Mastering Agility 

Most current leaders grew up in a business world believing in policies and procedures. Without them, their organizations were disorganized, chaotic, and unfocused. A process-free company has trouble setting goals and driving incrementally better performance. They realized that employees could easily lose motivation when they felt they had no control over their own success. However, in today’s business world, leaders have to be careful not to assume that an existing process can always tell them how to move forward, or will always lead them in the direction of the best decision. And very often, an existing process will need to be changed depending on new circumstances and developments. Or, one might have to throw it out and start over.

This means 21st century leaders need to be more tolerant of uncertainty. They have to be comfortable with the prospect of data delivering an unexpected result that could send any pre-planned strategies careening in the opposite direction. They have to be willing to listen to the ideas of those without traditional authority, because those might be exactly the perspectives they need.

Facilitating a Strong Culture

Leaders often struggle with the notion of culture. Is it really something an individual can shape? The good news is, a desirable culture is well within reach – just by being authentic and staying true to the organization’s most important values. Twenty-first century leaders can encourage a positive environment that engages and inspires managers, staff, and customers simply by keeping in mind their “reason for being” and encouraging goals that support that purpose.

It’s essential to understand that the era of command and control is over. Companies with strong cultures have a clear mission and vision that is communicated from the top and reinforced periodically.  Leaders have an open-door policy for feedback and suggestions and take the time to explain the big picture behind decisions and new developments. And more than ever, leaders are extending open communication to external constituents via an active social media presence. 

Reducing Hierarchy

Organizations that have layers upon layers of management tend to require a lot of red tape to get things done, and the amount of resulting bureaucracy is enough to drive agile and innovative employees to distraction.

The opposite of a hierarchical structure is a holacratic one. Holocracies are organizations that have removed power from a management hierarchy and distribute it across teams that execute autonomously. More 21st century companies are moving toward this model, which can work when leaders build teams in which members are empowered to set goals that are then shared and adopted by everyone. At one IT firm, for example, an entry-level engineer developed a new and useful program. He convinced his colleagues of its value, and within a few months, it was the company’s most competitive offering.

There are nuances here, though, and leaders should be measured in their approach to hierarchy and holacracy. The best style probably depends on a team’s individual situation, and leaders must be prepared to adjust communication and behavior depending on team dynamics. It’s unlikely that a radically holacratic structure, in which there are no main decision-makers and no titles, will work for most organizations. The key to success, as with many tasks of the effective 21st century leader, is to implement it in a sensible way that takes advantage of its benefits while leaving room for testing, adjustments and lessons learned.


Have you read?

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# RANKED: The World’s Top 10 Richest Countries (2017-2027).

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit

Contributor at CEOWORLD magazine
Alexandra Levit is the author of the new book Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future (Kogan Page). A partner at People Results, she helps Fortune 500 and government organizations and their leaders prepare for the future of work through proprietary research, consulting, and program development.
Alexandra Levit

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