Vercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar. Painting by Lionel Royer

How to Create 21st Century Leaders

Last month I wrote about what the entrepreneur actually needs to have in his ‘toolkit’ to be able to succeed, which provoked some debate within my own household about whether these were skills that were necessary only now in the 21st Century, or whether they had always been a requirement of any good entrepreneur.

The debate, like many others, continued in this vein for some time and no real conclusion was reached, except that an entrepreneur is also a leader (whether this is in their own organisation or in someone else) and that the qualities and attributes they needed were often synonymous with those that a great leader needs.  Once again though I wondered whether these skills and qualities were ones that are needed because of the hyper-connected world we now live in, or have they always been a requirement?  I decided to take the debate to a broader audience and several things became apparent through the discussions taking place.

Many suggested that honesty, accountability, integrity, vision, commitment, empathy, courage, trustworthiness and self-control were all key components that make up the necessary quality of a really great leader. Some of these are similar to those I was writing about last week. A regular comment was that a leader is not born, they can be created and we can all aspire to be a leader in the 21st Century, but from the general comments, the most important qualities seemed to be accountability and the ability to accept responsibility for our actions and reactions.

One thing did become clear though, and that was that although many of the skills needed to lead a company were the same as they had always been, a new set of qualities and skills was emerging in response to the social changes that have occurred in recent years. Many of these new qualities focus on improved ‘People Skills’ – those that were often considered ‘soft’ in days gone by and yet are crucial now.

The trend towards multiple jobs over a working life is increasing, this has been considered an issue for many because there is no ‘job for life’ but it also has its benefits as companies and organisations now need to think harder about how they attract, and retain the top talent they need to grow and develop. This has forced a change in the way that leaders lead.

Some of the new qualities required can be split into the following groupings:-

Clear Purpose. According to many industry experts, organisations need to have a clear vision about where they are going, and why they are going there. It is no longer enough to be chasing profit, there need to be clear social benefits for every stakeholder.

Leaders also need to be decisive and be prepared to accept responsibility for the decisions they make. This isn’t always about being right, but it is about being able to admit you are wrong and prepared to make necessary changes. It is no longer cost-effective to hold endless meetings about meetings, someone has to make a decision and accept that the buck stops with them.

Intuition and collaborative skills are key to demonstrating an inclusive, embracing culture that accepts the potential for change from any area of the organisation. This is key to engaging staff and ensuring that they feel their voice is heard and understood. Often it is those at the front line who have the clearest ideas about what will make a massive difference to a company’s future, but they are usually the least heard. Change that culture and you’ll have the power to change the market sector you operate in.

But these traits aren’t inherent, they need to be taught to our upcoming leaders and one of the most powerful ways that this can be achieved is through mentoring so it might be worth considering what your business could do if it captured the skills of a generation?

Please note: this post originally appeared on my LinkedIn account in 2014.

(Image: Vercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar. Painting by Lionel Royer.)

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  1. Claire, I think you are right they are both born with all the innate qualities and some can develop some of those qualities over the course of their life. I guess perhaps the difference between being born and working to develop the skills is rather like being a good driver – just because you know how to use a clutch, an accelerator and a brake doesn’t mean to say you will act considerately with other drivers. Many leaders who desire to lead aren’t really looking to leadership to fulfil that aim, it’s the power they think goes along with it they crave, and that, as we both know is an entirely different kettle of fish 🙂

  2. Thank you, Linda. Interesting…..because I believe in the influence of the Seven Cosmic Rays on our personalities, I believe the First Ray, of leadership and authority, can mean leaders are born. Working to strengthen a weak Seventh Ray, however, can enable us to learn about the use of power, hopefully for good. Leaders don’t always want to be leaders, but are called forward so to be, others long to be leaders for their own reasons – and sometimes fail if their ambition is based on self-service. Politicians can be a good example of this!