Good communication skills. The ability to work as part of a team. Comfortable with change. Flexible. These are all skills good leaders have. But are they enough? Perhaps more important, are they still valid for the 21st century?
We live and work in a rapidly changing environment. Wolf Rinke, a management consultant and executive coach in Clarksville, Maryland, and the author of Don't Oil the Squeaky Wheel... and 19 Other Contrarian Ways to Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness, says "you cannot rely on what may have worked in the past. Today's world is different. The stakes are high. The challenges and issues you face are changing at a rapid speed."
All this is certainly true. But are the required skills changing?
John Baldoni doesn't think so. Baldoni is a leadership communications consultant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the author of four books on leadership, including Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders.
"Leadership skills for the 21st century are the same as were necessary in the 20th," says Baldoni. "Leaders need to demonstrate character, communicate clearly, coach frequently, execute for results and always lead by example."
Who needs leadership skills? We all do. You don't have to have a formal title or people reporting to you to be a leader. Fred Gibson is the director of the Pioneer Leadership Program at the University of Denver. "While we do not have to be in charge of groups, businesses or governments, we each have an obligation to make a difference, to contribute actively to a community and to work in the public sphere to create great capacity, confidence and continuity," says Gibson. "If more people accept this role, crises will be met with leadership at several levels. Leadership vacuums will be less common.
Marjorie Brody, president of Brody Communications in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, agrees. "People need to understand that they can display leadership characteristics and he leaders without having authority or title," she says.
While there are literally dozens of traits that leadership experts point to as "must haves," certain skills keep coming up again and again. Here are 10 "must have" leadership skills for the 21st century:
1. Character is number one, says Brody. "People have to be trustworthy." Especially in today's environment where leaders frequently are being taken to task for their lack of character. "Character is the root of good leadership," says Baldoni. "By character I mean the values and beliefs the leader brings to the workplace. They should be authentic - that is, rooted in integrity, honor and ethics."
Kevin Cashman is founder and CEO of LeaderSource, an international leadership development and executive coaching consultancy. Cashman also speaks of "authenticity" and says, "In the 21st century, we can no longer afford to split off profit and performance from principles and purpose."
Rinke agrees. "Don't play to win," he advises. "Playing to win at any price is bad business over the long term - especially since many companies are creating an unethical culture."
2. Vision. "Having a vision and being able to communicate that vision," says Brody, is another critical trait for today's leaders. -You need to be able to articulate your vision. You need to be able to energize others." That, she says, requires courage, "because sometimes you've got to do the unpopular thing because it's in the best interest of the organization, shareholder or member."
"Leaders inspire people by having a vision, taking a personal interest in their people and providing frequent feedback related to the vision," says Patti Hathaway, CEO of The Change Agent in Westerville, Ohio. "Employees will do amazing things when they are inspired by a vision and when their leader gives them praise and recognition for a job well clone. That is what Gallup calls 'employee engagement,' and it is sorely lacking in most organizations."
3. Passion, says Brody, is another "must )have." But, she cautions, that doesn't necessarily mean that leaders have to be "charismatic." "There used to be a tithe when we thought we needed to have charismatic leaders. And there are times when the charisma really does work. But we're beginning to see that the companies that are built to last don't necessarily have charismatic leaders. They have leaders who respect others, who listen, who are confident." Charisma "doesn't hurt," she says, but "the charisma should not be in lieu of talent and commitment."
4. Communication is still a top-rated skill when it comes to leadership effectiveness.
"All leadership is relationships, and all relationships thrive via communication," says Cashman. "in the 20th century, results were enough, but leadership in the 21st century will require great results plus great interpersonal skills to succeed."
"Communication is essential to leadership," agrees Baldoni. "In fact," he says, "it drives the entire leadership process from vision and strategy through delegation, coaching, recognition and evaluation."
5. Coaching Skills. In addition to communication, says Baldoni, "coaching is the mantra of management. Managers are more and more required to support their people with resources and advice. This is not micromanagement," says Baldoni, "it's real management."
6. The Ability to Create Value. What do you have to contribute? How do you create value for your organization?
"Leaders of the 21st century need to go beyond achieving financial results to achieving enduring value for all constituencies served," says Cashman. Baldoni agrees. "Execution for results is the outcome of successful leadership. It is why you do what you do."
7. Flexibility. How many industries have you worked in? How many types of positions have you held?
Bill Lampton, Ph.D., is author of The Complete Communicator and president of Championship Communication in Gainesville, Georgia. Rather than confining their careers to the industry they start with, says Lampton, today's leaders must be more flexible and willing to move into new industries - even new careers - to excel. "When Bob Nardelli did not succeed Jack Welch at GE," Lampton points out, "Nardelli became CEO at Home Depot. Gone are the days when CEOs rose through nepotism alone, or even through longevity in one field."
"Flexibility is more paramount in our global and faster-paced economy," says Baldoni. "But," he adds, "every age has required it. Today we are merely accelerating."
Flexibility means more than the willingness to change companies or careers, of course. Stephen Fairley is a business coach and president of Today's Leadership Coaching, Inc. in Chicago. Successful leaders, says Fairley, "demonstrate interpersonal flexibility and a strong sense of emotional intelligence. They can quickly recognize when to use their leadership skill set, their managerial skill set or their coaching skill set."
8. Comfort with Ambiguity. Change is the only constant, some have said. The ability to navigate change - and deal with ambiguity - is a critical skill for today's leaders. "The increase in workplace diversity, globalization and the entrance of Gen Xers has significantly impacted how leaders must use all different kinds of interpersonal skills to continue to be effective," says Fairly.
Paul Clen, of C2 Consulting in Los Angeles, is a management consultant specializing in helping technology organizations. "As knowledge work becomes more pervasive," says Glen, "work becomes more abstracted and divorced from physical reality. As that transition takes place, it becomes more and more difficult for people to understand the purpose and meaning of their work. So effectively managing this ambiguity becomes of prime importance to leaders."
9. Collaboration. As popular reality TV shows like The Apprentice and Survivor demonstrate, the ability to work effectively with others - to collaborate - is an important leadership attribute.
Carol Watson is director of the new Center for the Development of Leadership Skills at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. "With the advent of globalization, rapid technology change and general turbulence in the world, leadership theory predicts that a more collaborative approach is likely to be called for than the traditional command-and-control style. Leaders are likely to need well-developed emotional and cultural intelligence, in addition to cognitive intelligence and a keen understanding of the business they are in," she says.
Joan Bryna Michelson, president/CEO of Michelson/ Cooper Marketing in Henderson, Nevada, says "the new leadership model is more collaborative, more open and less command-and-control. The new leadership model has the leader at the center of concentric circles of universes, flowing out from their inner circle and business to the nation and to the world at large."
Ben Dattner, Ph.D., a consultant in New York City, agrees with Michelson's model. "Twenty-first century leaders might benefit from thinking of themselves as being in the center of a web rather than on top of a pyramid," he says.
"Successful leaders will be those who can create, sustain and modify effective human capital and organizational strategies. As the business world becomes more horizontal and network-based, leaders will need to rely more on inspiration and influence rather than the exercise of command-and-control power."
10. Knowledge Seekers. "We assume that leaders are born, not made," says Gibson. "Quite the opposite is true. Although not everyone can be a world-class leader, each person can learn to develop his or her leadership potential. It is better to think of leadership as a role for which individuals can prepare themselves. When citizens discover their passion, are ready to take a risk to pursue it and to try new things interpersonally, they generally become leaders."
Successful leaders don't take leadership for granted. They work to cultivate leadership skills and are lifelong learners.
"Read as many books on leadership as possible," suggests Brody. "Read biographies of great leaders, considering their different styles. Observe the leaders you work with. What's working for them? What's not working?
"Volunteer for leadership responsibility in areas outside of the work environment. Get on a board. Work with a not-for-profit. Nothing beats doing. There's no one right way to lead, but nothing beats hands-on experience. Nobody ever feels ready enough - so just do it!"
Are the 10 leadership skills identified above the only skills leaders will need? Certainly not. "We've spent more than 75 years trying to say what differentiates leaders from non-leaders," says Watson, "and we still don't have a clear answer to that question. The idea that there are a couple of agreed-upon characteristics that make for effective leadership in the 21st century is overly simplistic, in my view." Nevertheless, they do represent a starting point, a personal development foundation for those aspiring to lead.
"In the 21st century," says Cashman, "leaders will need to authentically communicate to create value - they will need to be real; connect with a wide range of people and cultures and serve a wide range of constituencies. The ones who do will thrive in our new, emerging world."