So what does a 21st C leader look like

I was recently working with a group of eight extraordinary leaders; and as part of the workshop they reflected on their view of 21st C leadership. The more I think about what they chose to say, the more I think they came up with a pretty good template. So with my sincere thanks for their collective inspiration I thought I’d share it with others.


Many of us operate at high tempo; and we need to consider the impact such a non-stop style of operation has on us as individuals, as leaders, on our friends and family and on the team and organisations we lead.
The absence of reflection limits our personal growth and our ability to do things differently. If we don’t take time to learn from our actions and interactions we risk repeating our mistakes and not repeating our successes; and we start to see learning as a distraction from doing.

In the absence of learning and change how can we empower others by stopping long enough to let them change our minds – instead we busily insist on convincing them we are right.

If we do not take the time to reflect we will be left with no basis for action

Learn from others

Employees, staff, colleagues, call them what you will they are all people first, yet they are diverse in terms of education, experience and knowledge. Yet many of us face similar challenges in leadership. We all have something to contribute and we all have something to learn. So be sensitive to the culture you are coming into; be prepared to be vulnerable so that people can relate to you; value the opinions of others, whether those less experienced than you or not; and spend time investing in relationships, communicating and getting to know those around you.

Honest Conversations

Trust and Integrity is built upon having honest conversations. Conversations where we make the effort to be skilful not to offend or be hurtful; and where we do get our point across, communicating to the other person in a style that allows openness to be front of mind.
The recipient then has choice in their actions – what they choose to do with it is entirely personal.
Living to a set of values and conversing this way does not reduce our ability to hold people to account nor remove the need to be rigorous and robust about meeting agreed organisational objectives or targets. Indeed having truly honest conversations is uplifting and rewarding for both parties.


What is it that you can uniquely do that the world of tomorrow needs? To give people direction and purpose you need a vision, a vision unconstrained by today’s world. A vision shaped by understanding future possibilities – you don’t need to know the details, just the general direction. Challenge ourselves to look forward, be brave, refuse to accept the status quo and paint a picture of tomorrow that is both compelling, exciting and full of hope.
And in doing this reflect on what it is that we uniquely bring to achieve that vision and ensure that is where we put our energy. Understand what we lack that can be found in others and trust and empower them to contribute their own unique abilities to help us build tomorrow together.

Be your real self

Take of your mask and choose to put yourself at risk. You deserve your role, those you ask to follow deserve the real you. When we put on a mask we are doomed to fail as leaders; your followers’ respect will be lost when the deceit is inevitably uncovered.
Understand the complexity of our own characters and have the courage to bring our own more vulnerable self into our leadership challenges.

Step Up Step Back

As leaders we cannot be wilfully blind to situations. Leadership happens when we step up and try to change the things we believe hampers our effectiveness and trust in each other. Trust, however, is a two way process. As leaders it is also essential to be able to step back and bring in others trusting in them to make the right decisions.

It is our ability to balance these two choices that defines our leadership style.

No fear

So what does the baseball with No Fear emblazoned on it really mean? While the speed of technological change and population growth in our lifetimes has been at times overwhelming, often confusing and always exhausting; the speed of development and change in society gives us new opportunities.

Fear, of others, of change, of what is different, of loss – all of these can paralyse or make us not behave and act at our best and most skilful. If we can lean into the future fearlessly, being at our best, with a steady moral compass and care for our workforce then the world will truly be our oyster.

Jump into the jacuzzi

And sometimes as leaders we need to just have the courage to ‘jump into the jacuzzi’ when contemplating our next step. None of us knows for sure what the future holds; there are always competing demands on us, hopes and fears, excitement and apprehension and quite possibly a sense of unworthiness, inexperience, and a need for growing wisdom.
Ultimately you need to make that jump, trusting that making the move from the still, and possibly stagnant, waters of the present, will open up new opportunities even though there may well be a time when the waters around you seem to be in turmoil. Embracing stillness, listening and asking questions all the while the better to discern and understand the new environment.


And all the while doing this with care. Care for yourself, for your colleagues, for the organisation for which you work and the society and environment of which you are a part. Without real care all the above is hollow posturing.

True leaders care for their followers and their shared endeavour.