Leadership for the 21st Century

The previous articles discussed the importance of transformational leadership in the corporate world. This article looks at the traits and attributes needed in the 21st century business landscape. Though the article on transformative leadership touched upon several aspects of leadership in the contemporary times, this article expands on it by including the role of ethics and value based leadership for the 21st century.

If there is one lesson to be learnt from the ongoing global financial crisis, it is that the business leaders failed miserably to implement value based systems and instead, gave free rein to greed and the pursuit of monetary rewards at the expense of everything else. Indeed, as the behavior of the bankers and the financial elite proved in the aftermath of the crisis, they were more interested in furthering their goals rather than thinking about the welfare of the people.

The business landscape of the 21st century is extremely competitive and this uber connected world means that leaders have extraordinary demands placed upon them. However, this does not mean that they take shortcuts to success and sacrifice ethics and principles at the altar of profits.

Instead, what is needed in the current times is that leaders must not only be transformative but also practice value-based leadership that gives importance to ethics and humanitarian principles. As the various articles on corporate social responsibility discussed, we can navigate this century only if we cooperate along with compete and only if we share along with earn. Hence, the solution to the crisis facing humanity is clear: we are all in the same boat and hence we sink or swim together. This is the place where leaders can display their leadership skills and ensure that they lead by example and not rock the boat and instead, teach others to steer it to safety.

Further, leaders in the 21st century have another vital function i.e. they have to be the ideal role models for the coming generation and since anyone who has grown up over the last two decades would testify, they have been influenced by leaders from all occupations. For instance, it is common for people in their thirties now to admire and idolize business leaders like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jack Welch, and NR Narayana Murthy. In the same way, the upcoming generation needs to have the current leaders of the business world as role models and hence a holistic approach that does not put profits before people all the time, that does not place undue emphasis on making money as the sole aim, and finally, the transformative power of business to solve social problems with the leaders taking the lead, are traits and attributes that are needed from the leaders of the 21st century.

In this context, it is worth mentioning that the present generation is very cynical and disinterested in the leaders of the present because of the lack of these motivating characteristics from the leaders. Indeed, this is something that is food for thought for the present day leaders and something that they should actualize in practice.


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Leadership