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Effective Leadership for 21st Century Organizations

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

An officer should make it a cardinal principle of life that by no act of commission or omission on his part will he permit his immediate superior to make a mistake. — Gen. Malin Craig

Traditional leadership styles from the 19th and 20th Centuries tended to involve strict hierarchies, superiority, winners, and losers. To lead, people needed to prove they were better than everyone else. Leadership was about power and its abuse, loneliness, and affectations. In the latter part of the 20th Century, there was a gradual decline in hierarchies which is evermore the case in the first decade of the 21st Century. 

So how does this impact business? What does it suggest about leadership and success in the twenty-first Century? Sides of leadership in the 21st Century. From our experience, successful businesses (be they high-quality start-ups or companies looking for rapid growth) recognize new values essential to their success. It is out with the old and in with: 

Flat Structures

  • An inclusive management style that involves all people in the organization, not just senior management
  • openness and transparency
  • genuinely equal opportunities, regardless of race, ethnic origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc.

21st Century leadership is not about bullying, high-handedness, or even intellectual or financial superiority. It is about playing to strengths, working around, minimizing weaknesses, authenticity, and not being phased by challenges. Above all, it is about being straight in internal and external communications. 

Powerful language 

The fresh style is about a can-do mentality and about avoiding disempowering language. Words such as I will try to, I need you to…, and other indirect languages undermine the communication: trying to do anything is preparing for failure, not taking personal responsibility for causing something. Using language that suggests there is another reason for why someone should do something rather than simply that you want them to do it makes people look weak, so needing someone to do something is, in fact, rarely authentic and should generally be replaced by I want you to do X please or some equivalent straight communication. 

Walking the talk 

Finally, leadership in the 21st Century is about walking the talk of the organization. However, the organization needs to be clear about what it is talking about before it can walk it. Then it needs to make sure that it is consistent in everything it does: this is anything from internal relations (with colleagues) through to external links with customers, suppliers, and the public at large. 

Making it Real 

We believe that law is the glue of society, the structure behind relationships. A leader must ensure that all their relationships work. Where the connections are recognized as necessary to the organization (and we cannot conceive of an organization where they are not), special attention needs to be paid to ensuring that all documented relationships are consistent with the values of the organization and the style of leadership. Are your communications straight, open, honest, and fair? When did you last look at your employment contracts, shareholders agreements, business terms, weblebrities, partnering agreements, and purchase contracts? Are they consistent with whom you say you are?

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