How To Be A Successful 21st Century Leader

Observing leaders, reading about leading, and being a business leader myself, I’ve begun to formulate five key concepts that I believe are essential for any leader to grasp if he or she is going to lead teams successfully. Here they are…

First, leadership is built on strong, lasting ideas.
None of us would disagree that our world is in a state of flux. Due to the mass of data and web access, business models and practices are shifting to encompass growing levels of customers. A store in the middle of nowhere can now service the needs of people around the globe. Technological advances move data and goods faster than ever in the history of the world. Regardless of this, leaders who have solid, lasting principles for business are the ones most likely to win in the long-haul. Their organizations may change in structure and/or practice, but their ideals for excellence and customer service will survive.

Second, leadership is about team success.
The 20th century was big on top-down management. That model is being challenged today, and I believe rightfully so. While I certainly believe that hierarchy is often needed for organization and clear lines of responsibility, leaders ought not to be the ones who are merely delegating tasks or relegating their lower lines to menial responsibilities. It even goes beyond being the planners to participating at the ground level. True leaders will find themselves assisting in the lowest lines, encouraging, and even promoting entrepreneurial principles into simple tasks. Essentially, the “top dogs” are working from the bottom up; I like to call this servant-leadership.

Third, leadership is demonstrative.
Demonstrative leadership ties our first two principles together, and it requires that leaders be among the troops, observing, talking, learning, perceiving needs. Planning ways to honor employees, celebrating successes, developing ways for workers to find meaningful relationships on the team – these are all elements often left to chance or to a small committee with few-to-no teeth. Yet, so much momentum is lost if it’s not a focus. Honesty is a key here – making changes for to better those involved in making the organization a success. Pruning where necessary, supporting and growing to make everything – and everyone – stronger.

Fourth, leadership is flexible.
Giving space to leaders in your organization is acceptable as long as your organization’s values are not being sacrificed. In fact, allowing a department to make a decision can be healthy, and it promotes trust and accountability. Here are two questions to consider in this case: 1) Will this change affect our overall direction or counteract our core values? 2) Will this change result in either internal and/or customer growth? Allowing groups within the team to test and validate theories could lead to your next discovery. Fight the urge to micromanage.

Fifth, leadership requires accountability.
Pick any organization. If you see a lackadaisical spirit, discouragement, disorganization, a bad user/customer experience, or a mediocre product you are likely observing a company with low-to-no accountability. On the flip side, if you see enthusiasm, a sense of worth, organization, great customer service, and a quality product you are observing a company that holds people accountable. Team members should show up each day and know that they are making a difference while also being held to a determined level of quality. Inspect what you expect. This means communication as well; you can’t hold to a standard if people are unsure of how high the bar is set.

Yes, times are changing! The days of corporate figureheads and mere titles are setting over the horizon. It’s time to get involved as an active influence to keep your team energetically moving toward the goal.


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