21st Century Leadership

What it takes to be a successful, extraordinary leader in this century is vastly different than what it took in the 20th, and light years beyond what it took in the 19th.

In a global society of ever expanding connectedness and volumes of freely available information, the fact is that it is the shift in the ‘follower’ that now demands a shift in leaders.

200 years ago societal position was what qualified one to be a leader. 100 years ago leadership theory, based almost entirely on the military model, was added to societal position and hence command and control was further entrenched.

Command and control has dominated the practice of government and business leadership for the past 100 years and in 2011 we witnessed the spectacular beginning of that model’s death throws. The ‘mexican wave’ that travelled, and is still travelling, across the middle east, is fuelled by the expansion of information and communication that has rapidly accelerated in the past 10 years.

Command and control is predicated on a specific relationship with one’s followers. The command and control leader has some level of control of information, the withholding of which allows for manipulation and domination. The perspective insinuates a view of superiority over others, often ‘for their own good’. Arrogance, narrow or bloody mindedness are viewed as strong leadership qualities – seen as decisiveness, a willingness to be accountable and take action. To not be swayed by others view is seen as a strength of character, something to aspire to. No wonder women have struggled in this world.

If the paradigm is leading by telling others what to do, then of course you have to be the ultimate authority on what is the right thing to do. The command and control leader’s power is founded on his/her being all knowing, and the gathering and withholding of information is necessary to sustain that position.

As information becomes freely available and the general population gets smarter, this foundation is getting eroded and the command and control style of leadership is fast becoming bankrupt.

So what’s leadership in this new era? What does it take to be a successful, extraordinary leader today?

If it is not about dominating, manipulating, withholding information, controlling, having all the answers – then what?

For centuries there have been real examples of the kind of leadership that’s being demanded in today’s world. There have been many ‘prophets’ of leadership and in fact there has been volumes written about these people and yet their version of leadership has not been the one most commonly emulated. They were before their time, their time is now.

Being a Leader, Not Doing Leadership

Have you ever known someone who is a leader in terms of their position, like CEO/Scout Leader/Manager, but who doesn’t BE a leader? What is it that is missing?

Let’s look at some of those ‘prophets’. People like Jesus Christ/Buddha/Mary McKillop, or Haile Selassie/Nelson Mandela/Golda Meir/Ben Disraeli. What are the ways of being we can observe in these people?

Are they deeply connected to their followers?

Are they serving others?

Are they open, inclusive and collaborative?

Are they willing to speak the truth without being righteous about it?

Are they generous with themselves?

Are they compassionate?

Are they tough when toughness is required?

Are they aware of and responsible for their flaws?

Do they stay with what they are passionate about, even in the face of adversity?

Are they focused on ME or WE?

Do they take responsibility for their failures or blame others?

Are they authentic?

Authentic Leadership

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” Victor Frankl (1905 – 1997)

Leadership is a privilege, not a right or a position. You must earn the right to lead and never lose sight of the gift you have been given by others to do so.

In today’s highly connected and informed world there is no longer any space for a leader, or someone aspiring to be one, to avoid dealing with the tough questions like:

Who am I?


What are my motives as a leader?


What are my shortcomings?


What are my aspirations?

Being a successful, extraordinary leader today demands an authenticity, firstly with oneself and then with others. It is about evolving as a human being, never resting on ‘I’ve made it’, continually pushing oneself beyond limitations in the areas of knowledge, expertise and relationships with others.

Leadership is not the exclusive domain of those in leadership positions. The world today needs lots of leadership. It is a way of being that’s as accessible to the homemaker as it is to a corporate CEO.

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