The 21st Century Leadership



Since time immemorial, leadership and management have been two concepts in the field of organizational structure that have proved hard to divorce. Mostly, people do take leaders for managers and managers for leaders in organizational management. As a result, this research deals with exploring the place of leadership in organizations and businesses in the 21st century, the efficacy of leaders at the workplace. Of great importance will be to show relevant leadership styles can benefit an organization in the long run as well as how poor leadership styles have ended up ruining formidable organization and businesses at the world stage. To critically grasp the nature of leadership in the 21st century, the paper will analyze among other things the specific factors that have forced changes in the organizational and business leadership of late, the specific leadership competencies that are significant in the dynamic field of leadership in the 21st century as well as provide a comparison between these competencies and the classical leadership capabilities. 


A leader can be defined as a person who has followers. The field is not business as usual for just any other person to assume the responsibilities of managing an organization in the 21st century. Leaders today are faced with the challenge to do things right always every time. The worlds today is shaped in a manner to dictate organizations to be shaped in a certain manner in their operation or they simply won’t survive. Basically, for any organization to function effectively and efficiently in the 21st century, they got to have competent leadership and management systems in additional to a strong and reliable followership. 

As such, it has to be clear the differences between leadership and management in the organizational set up as well as how differently or similarly the two do handle the crucial processes of decision making and problem-solving in organizational administration. Among the main differences of all times between managers and leaders is the fact that while managers struggle to control people and resources to achieve desired outcome, leaders will inspire and influence followers through the use of innovation and intuition to achieve set goals. From the above differences it is clear that leaders are a bit flexible in the operation unlike managers who don’t entertain deviation from the status quo. 

Going by the above basic differences, it would follow that the present organization and businesses do need leaders to run them. The organizations today are faced with a constant threat of stiff competition and dynamism spurred by the presence and usage of internet by many stakeholders. At play here will be the core characteristics of an effective leader such as confidence, innovativeness and integrity to steer the organization even during some unlikely happenings.  Strong communication and management skills are equally important to ensure that all plans and procedures and goals are clear and not ambiguous to the followers. Besides, another trait of a leader that will help save an organization during such moments will include the ability to apply creativity and innovativeness in the crucial organizational processes like decision making and problem solving exercises. Decision making and effective problem solving skills of a leader will set apart organizations led by leaders from those led by managers. Leader-led organizations are characterized by ability to endure changes and hardship without suffering setbacks such as retrenching or closure of business. 

There exists a number of businesses that have had to go down courtesy of poor leadership. Some worldwide known examples include the move by management in Netflix company to split the company in to separate paid services. Of course it was the idea of the management to adopt the strategy little did they know it would be a detrimental move that would end up slowing the pace of Netflix being the next big thing in the video industry. In fact, the move ended up completely shutting that dream giving opportunity to other companies to overtake them. Equally, Blackberry smartphone was the dream of every person across the world for it was a representation of class and decency. The smartphone was a hot cake in the market but thanks to nepotism within the company as propelled by the management, the brand is now part of history. The mangers adopted promoting employees from within the company to leadership levels and worse of all, not by skills and competency but rather based on tenure. 

The high levels of uncertainty that surround organization today has forced leaders to adopt more practical and involving approaches of steering the organizations such that they openly share the organizational vision and mission with the organization’s employees, initiate and implement sustainable management strategies and find ways of motivating the followers to enhance their performance so as to continue achieving organizational goals and objectives. The uncertainty is attributable to factors like the ease of access of information and high level of mechanization at the workplace. Both factors impact on the productivity of individuals. Such is the kind of complexity that surrounds the leadership field in the 21st century and it is up to the leader to piece together all these factors and come up with a working strategy that synchronizes the efforts from all of them and lead to productivity. 

From several studies conducted on organizational management, there is evidence that there is a direct relationship between effective organizational leadership and greater economic output. Through sound leadership practices, cases of organizations going down due to acts like embezzlement of funds and fraud will not be in existence. The implication is that all organization will be managed well. As a result of the effective management, the organizations will expand and create more employment opportunities to the residents of a country. Similarly, the organizations will continue remitting more and more revenues through taxation to spur growth in other sectors of the economy. Such a comprehensive growth in the many aspects of the economy are crucial to achieving national development. Looked at from the perspectives of benefiting the national economy, the importance of leadership as a discipline then cannot be wished away. 

Leadership is wide and it is not limited to the context of organizations only. At the national level, right form the presidency/ monarch, there is need to have leaders instead of politicians. A country/state can be likened to an organization and poor leadership can consequentially result to absolute failure of systems within a country. This is the reason behind the many leadership forums that are being organized in the recent years to sharpen leadership skills of the world leaders to help prevent or salvage some of the ugly human related crises that are currently being witnessed in the world.

Core competencies for 21st century leaders

The 21st century leader is faced with such factors as managing economic crises, combating inequality and poverty, tackling environmental issues and solving other challenges facing the people in the world. It is clear that the field is tougher than ever and a paradigm shift in leadership trends would be core in the case of leadership in the 21st century. The world we live in today is globally connected and characterized by unprecedented economic, social and technological changes and it can only be better to shun the leadership mindset of the Industrial Age of the 20the century. As such, some of the key competencies for leaders in the 21st century would include but not limited to the following. 

First, the leaders should be able to develop a strategy and outline a vision for the organization. As per the rules of transformational leadership, leaders today need to point the way by developing a strategic vision that clearly points the course the organization is taking going forward. The vision needs to be well communicated to all the organization’s stakeholder to create a shared purpose and help individuals develop different strategic initiatives so that together they can achieve the bigger vision of the organization. The vision is the framework upon which people have a direction, get inspired and work collaboratively to achieve organizational goals. 

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Secondly, the leader of the 21st century should have a focus on results. Many of the leaders in this century have a bias for action as compared to plan. The phrase “done is better than perfect” has been doing rounds in many business magazines and it underlines the importance of this strategy in the present day leadership especially given that we are living in a digitized world where speed of execution should matter greatly. 

Thirdly, in the 21st century, the leader should be someone who can comfortably manage a diverse workforce. Through globalization, companies are now hiring people from almost all over the world. They would come with different cultures, attitudes and beliefs. As such, there is a challenge for the leader to create a team that can work coherently from what is initially just a collection of employees. Balancing between the competencies of the employees and granting them their freedom to work with people who would help bring the best out of them is quite a headache for leaders in organizations given that the workforce is among the most valuable assets in any organization. 

Further, the leader should be able to communicate effectively and efficiently. Communication is the live-blood of an organization and without it, all operations will be ambiguous. Given that we are living in a world characterized by ability of people to access information at the tough a button in milliseconds, the world has become a global village and there are many networks that are IT-driven, the 21st century leaders should thus be someone who can ensure that they are up to date with the latest of communication technology. Use of intranets and special apps for bidirectional passing of information to the workers within an organization therefore becomes inevitable and so does with the rest of the stakeholders. The leaders should use the latest technology in communication to ensure transparent and speedy operations that are key to business success in the 21st century.

Another important competency that the 21st century leader should demonstrate is the ability to innovate. The leader should create such an environment that the employees are not at a constant pressure to deliver. Rather, they should be working in an innovative environment characterized by collaborative working culture that harnesses the best of the performance from individuals. Key to innovativeness, the leader creates both the culture and the environment that facilitates openness, collaboration, constant thinking and action towards creating new ways of doing things. 

Shaping up organizational culture, maintaining ethical and professional working environment, cultivating a global thinking, practicing systems thinking and living agile are the other important competencies that can ensure success of leaders in the 21st century. They grossly make the company a better place for the employees to work at, ensure they are focused on the core business of the organization as well as ensuring there is general coherence of activities across the organization. 

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Underlying causes of changes to leadership competencies

Technology and globalization in general is a factor that is fast defining the business environment today. The playing field has been greatly transformed by the different business stakeholders who have taken significant strategic shifts. The dynamism has come with a whole lot of opportunities that organizations can tap and in a very short time grow to immense sizes. Equally, there is the threat that any organization that will be resistant to the changes shall find it difficult to bear the competition and generally may be forced out of the market due to failure to keep pace with the technological developments. It is only the organizations that can anticipate talent needs, seize the shrinking number of opportunities, stay ahead of rapid pace of change and those that can take the lead in developing innovative strategies ready to tackle the future will be likely to operate in the tomorrow’s years. 

To keep abreast with this characteristic environment, successful business leaders will shape their organizations in a more flexible, nimble, more networked and less hierarchical manner to deliver value. The key focus for leaders in the recent past has been key emerging business revolutions of authenticity, talent, agility and sustainability. The result has been distinctive leadership styles that can define what the success quotients of the organizations are through the provision of directions that shape and lead the organizations. It therefore turns out that situational leadership is more ideal for it addresses the specific situation at hand that needs to be managed rather than just have a one-fit all leadership style. Different situations in the organization will tend to be unique and if the leadership has to completely address the problems completely, then individual cases will have to be addressed distinctively. 

Relationship between the 21st century leadership style and the classical leadership styles

A critical review of the 21st century leadership literature has identified that what many authors call new in the leadership field is actually not new but rather an adapted version of the previous approaches. However, there are still a few new leadership styles that have been in the field in the recent past which are distinct form the old styles. For example, besides the classical theories of leadership, in the 21st century, there has been the addition of spiritual leadership style. Spiritual leadership has become a fast growing practice at the workplace since its inception. Core to the strategy is the ability to inspire and motivate the workers by the means of using a culture based in altruistic values and a translucent vision.  Crosby, Philip B. (1992)defined spiritual leadership as, “Creating the values, attitudes, and behaviors that are necessary to intrinsically motivate one’s self and others so they have a sense of spiritual survival/wellbeing through calling and membership”. 

Besides spiritual leadership, there is the choice of adaptive and transformational leadership styles as among the best models in the 21st century. From the above discussed styles of leadership, it can be deduced that the new styles of leadership are very aggressive and outcome-sensitive as compared to the classical leadership styles. Also, the classical leadership styles were not flexible in their application and they were so routine prohibiting innovation since the environment in which the organizations operated were stable and no new threats needed to be addressed constantly. On the other hand, the present day leadership models encourage flexibility and they create an environment and culture of flexibility and democracy to bring out the creative and innovative aspects of the employees to the fore. It is the ability to do something new that lies at the center of survival for the modern day businesses. 

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From the above research, it is evident how critical leadership is in the 21st century and in the past as well. John C. Maxwell, the father of leadership said, “Everything rises and falls in leadership”. That simply underlines the importance of leadership in running the affairs of not only the organizations but also our states. There is future in good leadership and governance and their absence, there is disillusionment to the future generations. The modern technology and other changes in the world today have made the situation critical for they put a more demanding list of characteristic on who a leader should be. However, it is clear that all of us have a responsibility to play as far as the practicing of sound leadership styles is concerned in different settings. 

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  1. Bennis, Warren G. “Managing the dream: Leadership in the 21st century.” Journal of organizational change management 2, no. 1 (1989): 6-10.
  2. Crosby, Philip B. “21st century leadership.” The Journal for Quality and Participation 15, no. 4 (1992): 24.
  3. Fullan, Michael. “Leadership for the 21st century: Breaking the bonds of dependency.” Educational leadership 55 (1998): 6-11.
  4. Ireland, R. Duane, and Michael A. Hitt. “Achieving and maintaining strategic competitiveness in the 21st century: The role of strategic leadership.” The Academy of Management Executive 13, no. 1 (1999): 43-57.
  5. Thomson, Jeff. “21st Century leadership.” Strategic Finance 95, no. 5 (2013): 23-24.
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