Leadership Lessons For the 21st Century

The skills demanded of tomorrow's leaders are diverse and complex. Take this quiz to see how you rate.

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Many centuries ago, leadership positions often demanded the right family connections. Later an ability to read and compute became a requisite for leadership. Later still, demands on leaders included an understanding of production systems and today, leaders are expected to possess superb people skills.

The skills demanded of 21st century leaders are even more diverse and complex, regardless of the size or nature of their organizations. Ask yourself: Do you possess the skills necessary to lead in the 21st century?

In this brief quiz, each pair of statements describes two sets of skills - one, a 21st century skill and the other, a 20th century skill. Which do you exhibit more often? For each 21st century skill you usually practice, you receive two points. For each 20th century skill you practice, you receive one point. After you complete the quiz, take a few moments to read the commentary about the skills covered in the quiz.

1. I'm a "relationship manager," best suited to lead and guide a flexible, constantly changing group of employees and contractors (2 points) or... I'm a "supervisory manager" best suited to lead and direct a stable group of traditional, fixed-schedule employees (1 point).

2. In my managerial role, I'm most comfortable listening and learning (2 points) or... speaking and instructing (1 point).

3. I see myself principally as a "resource broker," quickly negotiating shifts of money and time from employee to employee and project to project (2 points) or I see, myself principally as a "resource manager," guiding the annual budget and monitoring the financial plan (1 point).

4. I'm very comfortable communicating electronically (2 points) or... I'm most comfortable communicating in traditional spoken or pen-and-paper form (1 point).

5. I understand technology and can creatively use and manage it in support of my business (2 points) or... I understand the role technology can play in my business and I creatively manage the work of employees and contractors providing technology-related services (1 point).

6. I influence the behavior of other people through sophisticated motivational skills (2 points) or... through well-crafted procedures and communication techniques (1 point).

7. I'm able and willing to thrive in a constantly changing, pressure-filled workplace (2 points) or... I'm able and willing to develop a stable, steady, comfortable workplace (1 point).

8. I'm willing to tolerate and even embrace ambiguity in my work (2 points) or... My priority is to quickly develop procedures and processes in response to unresolved issues (1 point).

9. I possess excellent skills in translating complex technological, marketing and management issues into easily understandable principles for the people around me (2 points) or... I possess excellent skill in identifying up-to-date information and arranging for the people around me to learn it (1 point).

10. I'm most comfortable articulating vision statements and vision strategies (2 points) or... I'm most comfortable articulating goals and objectives (1 point).

11. I can quickly shift among various managerial roles, such as "facilitator," "coach" or "controller" (2 points) or... I've learned my optimum managerial role and practice it consistently (1 point).

12. I'm most concerned with leading myself (2 points) or... I'm most concerned with leading others (1 points).

13. I maintain personal "data bases" of knowledge and information, and I "broker" knowledge among my employees (2 points) or... My priority is to rely on trainers and expert resources to provide up-to-date knowledge and information (1 point).

14. My behavior is shaped principally by my personal code of ethics (2 points) or ... My behavior is shaped by my business principles and policies (1 point).

15. I seek ethnic and social diversity, and I can manage a diverse group of employees (2 points) or... While open to diversity at work, I encourage employees to fill their assigned work roles and leave personal backgrounds at home (1 point).

Now score yourself. If you scored between 25 and 30, you're exhibiting many of the traits the 21st century demands. A score of between 20 and 25 means you're still adapting to the new challenges of 21st century business life. A score below 21 suggests you're grounded in the 20th century leadership skills. A caveat: There's nothing wrong with 20th century skills. You'll still continue to use this skill set in the 21st century. But, you and other leaders will increasingly...

• Be "relationship managers." Leaders won't simply supervise traditional "9 to 5" employees in the 21st century. They'll manage constantly shifting groups of workers - including full- and part-time employees, people working flex-time, independent contractors, "temps," even vendors "on loan."

• Become "learning listeners." Today, leaders practice the art of "active listening" - communicating with their whole bodies and sharing information. Tomorrow, leaders will use their communication skills to glean insights and information from the vast quantity of knowledge possessed by the people around them.

• Broker resources. Yes, the leader of the 21st century will have to manage tight budgets - same as now. But the 21st century leaders also will have to quickly shift resources from person to person as changing needs dictate. And the 21st century leader will have to formally account for commodities such as morale, customer satisfaction and image, just as he or she accounts for money today.

• Communicate electronically. Tomorrow's leaders may not see many of their employees and contractors on a regular basis. These leaders will need to learn how to manage people electronically, and to communicate effectively through audio, video and computer communication channels. And these leaders will need to learn how to motivate customers using these electronic tools, as well.

• Creatively use technology. Tomorrow's leaders won't have to be technical wizards, but they will have to understand the myriad of ways technology can be used to manage and market - and will need the "hands-on" skills to select the right technical tools and use them appropriately.

• Influence behavior through motivation. The leaders of the 21st century will become masters of motivation. They'll glean sophisticated motivational skills from the latest human relations and psychological findings and use those skills to motivate employees. And they'll rely on sophisticated consumer behavior models to influence buying behavior more frequently than traditional advertising.

• Possess emotional stamina. Today's leaders feel stressed when events aren't predictable, when demands come at them fast and furiously. Tomorrow's leaders will embrace change, conflict and pressure as exciting professional challenges.

• Possess tolerance for ambiguity. Change, in the form of shifting customer demands, governmental regulations and technological innovation, is constant. True leaders will need the stability to remain calm in the midst of so much change - and to poise the organization to function effectively in a sometimes frantic business environment.

• Possess "translation" skills. Leaders will develop an acute understanding of the business environment and "translate" complex technological, marketing and management requirements to simple, easily understandable principles for customers and employees.

• Possess vision. Don't confuse vision with goals. While long-term goals may be based on a business' vision, an authentic vision is an easy-to-articulate principle cutting across goals and rallying everyone in the organization. A traditional goal: "We'll achieve 5 percent sales growth next year." A 21st century vision: "Sale or no sale, we'll position ourselves as a state-of-the-art company in the mind of every prospect."

• Practice role adaption. In years gone by, leaders often were encouraged to identify their leadership "style" and practice it consistently. No more. In the years ahead, leaders will be expected to shift their style, depending on the needs of the moment. At one point, for instance, a leader may serve as a coach, at another moment, as a facilitator, and at still another moment, as a strategist.

• Provide self-leadership. Before the leader of tomorrow can lead others, he or she will have to learn to lead him or herself. Tomorrow's leaders will develop lifelong personal education programs, obtain their own mentors or coaches to guide them, and find ways to constantly renew their confidence.

• Serve as knowledge brokers. Leaders of the 21st century will spend time studying and training. They'll maintain computerized "knowledge bases" of information and constantly replenish them with up-to-date data. They'll be quick to retrieve knowledge from the people around them, and repackage it for others.

• Subscribe to personal ethics principles. Bureaucracy has frustrated people the world over and has generated widespread distrust of institutions. Customers and employers will gravitate toward businesses led by principled leaders who base their actions on strong personal values and commitments.

• Understand and manage diversity. The 21st century workplace will consist of people of a wide variety of ethnic and social backgrounds. Customer backgrounds will become more varied as well, and even small firms will be doing business internationally. Tomorrow's leaders will understand the traditions and cultures of the people they are serving and working with - and they'll promote an appreciation for diversity throughout the workplace.

The 21st century is upon us. Are you ready for the leadership challenges this era poses?

By Richard_Ansman

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